Dissertation month update; Part 2

Dissertation month continues! As does my progress. The biggest part of this week’s work has been transcribing and re-reading interview materials, but I’ve also managed to complete my methodology section and to expand upon my literature review. Importantly, I’ve also managed to create my chapter outline this week.

Now, you would think that an outline is something that should have happened early on—and you’d be correct. And, in fact, I did create a basic outline several months ago which I’ve been working from all along. However, some of the sub-sections within chapters couldn’t be determined until I got to the analysing portion of the project. And I’m there now!

But for all of the work I’ve done, I am not much further along the path to 12,000 words! It seems that I’ve managed to clean up quite a bit of text, making it more precise, but that also means making it less wordy. (Obviously not something I can do here on my blog!)

I am excited to say, however, that I’ve managed to get some more work done on my introduction and—thankfully!—I now have a better understanding of the main body of the project, my findings.

So, where am I now?

Current word count: 2,971 (only 9,029 to go!)

Tomorrow’s task list:

  • Go for a 4+ mile run
  • Back to the library, again!
  • Complete literature review section
  • Expand on findings section

Oh! And a very, very happy 13th birthday to my lovely former foster daughter!

Quiet-ness

I’ve been quiet again. (Still?) So I feel that I should pop in and say hello, since so often I’m quiet when life is hard and I’m feeling down. But that’s not the case right now. Well, mostly not the case.

The past two weeks have been… interesting. In fact, this past week it got even more interesting! I’ve had a lot going on and have been mulling over all sorts of things. Some good; some not-so good; some potentially good but yet undetermined. But nothing life threatening. (Life altering, maybe.)

I’m being vague. I know. And I’m sure that there are a few people who may think they know what I’m talking about. But they don’t. (I know! More vague-ery. Is that a word?)

Anyhow, since I’m not really in a position to share the interesting-ness of the last couple of weeks (yet) I’m just checking in to say that life is mostly good right now. I am busy working on my dissertation and am filling out job applications like a mad woman.

But since I’m being vague, I’ll at least share a few highlights:

  • I finished a swirl drawing for my lovely [former] foster daughter. (I must get it in the post next week!)
  • I had a platelet count last week and the results came back at 164. Yes folks, that’s in the normal range. Awesome!
  • I am running the Edinburgh Half Marathon tomorrow. Only I didn’t get registered in time, which means I’m running as someone else, since they kindly sacrificed their entry for me.

Anyhow, I expect that the next couple of weeks will be weird and filled with more mulling. (And job applications.) But I’ll try not to be too quiet.

[Photo is the swirl drawing I’m sending to the kid. She is, after all, one of my biggest swirl fans!]

Making do; Part 2

Back in November I talked about the practice of ‘making do’ in my efforts to host a Thanksgiving dinner for friends. I was really pleased that all of that making do worked out, especially since I’ve found myself needing to make do again. But this time, making do had nothing to do with food. Instead, I found myself having to make do with what I had to wrapping parcels.

For years, I collected used gift bags and tissue paper, bows and ribbons, and even wrapping paper and boxes. I had it all neatly organised so that I could easily wrap up gifts for family and friends. I had such a selection of stuff that I almost always found the right size bag, box, or used bit of paper for everything. But when I moved, I passed on my collection to my baby sister, Royann. And that means there isn’t an awe-inspiring collection of wrapping supplies tucked away in the hall closet. (I hope she appreciates the time it took me to amass such a collection, and I hope she’s using the supplies whilst continuing to replenish them with her own reclaimed materials!)

Then yesterday I found myself looking at purchasing wrapping paper, shipping boxes, and bubble wrap for sending parcels home for Christmas. And I have to admit that as I stood there looking at the available stock in the shops made me sad as I recalled (once again) all of the stuff (i.e.: clutter) I had to leave behind when I ventured out for this new future of mine.

So I went home empty-handed. No, really. I went home with nothing because the idea of having to buy those things broke my heart. When I got home, however, I started to look at what I had. I had printer paper and coloured pencils, so I would make wrapping paper. (I didn’t.) I had a few boxes from things I bought when I moved into my flat—but they were all either too big or too small. And I had some wrapping paper from a lovely housewarming gift that Rebecca gave me.

Ah! And I had scissors and a bag filled with plastic bags (from before I got my re-usable ones). And with that, I got to work.

It seems that the gifts I bought for my nieces and nephews were small enough to be placed in envelopes with their Christmas cards and there was just enough of that wrapping paper from Rebecca for the gifts I got for my folks and my lovely [former] foster daughter. Then, I found a used (but usable) padded envelope that was large enough for my foster daughter’s gift to fit in. But I was having trouble finding a box for the stuff for my nieces, nephews, and parents (it was all being shipped to the folks’ place to save on costs).

But wait! Who needs a box to be the ‘right’ size when you have scissors? It seemed to me that there was a box that could be the perfect size—if I cut it down a bit. And padding? Well, since the nieces and nephews’ gifts aren’t breakable, they got to help provide protection for the folks’ gifts, along with some crumpled plastic bags (which I know the folks will recycle on my behalf).

And that’s it. I had to buy some packing tape, but that’s something I can’t really re-use anyhow.

Of course, now I need to figure out how I will wrap the rest of my gifts. But since they didn’t need to go to the post office for international shipping, I can give myself a few days to scrounge around. And there is still that printer paper and coloured pencils if all else fails!

Chalk it up to intelligence

Since the beginning of June, I’ve been a bit remiss about organising my digital files. I think I got a bit crazy with my foster daughter moving, followed by quitting my job, leaving my house, moving to Scotland, starting school, and well, just life in general!

But the point is this: Tonight I got around to looking at some of the photos that I’ve taken over the past few months* and I found one of the sidewalk chalk drawing my foster daughter made for me a couple of days before she left. She was so excited to drag me out of the house to see it and I was so excited to see her so excited about it!

Yes, the kid thought I was pretty awesome. When we’d go into town, she insisted on introducing me to everyone as her ‘awesome foster mom’. She failed to acknowledge, however, that I couldn’t have been an awesome foster mom without having such an awesome foster kid.

Anyhow, I just thought I’d share the kid’s artwork. I miss seeing her drawings every day (I miss seeing her every day!), but at least I know she’s still happily drawing away in her new home. In fact, when we spoke on the phone last week, I asked if she needed/wanted anything and her only request was a new sketch book with the Loch Ness Monster or a Scottish flag on it.

I wonder what I’ll find the next time I flip through my photos …

* Don’t worry! I’m not one of those people who keep photos on the camera for months and months at a time. I’ve been transferring to my computer and backup drive; I’ve just not filed all of them in their respective folders.

I’ve got spirit, yes I do!

Today I had lunch with a couple of ladies from the state’s foster care office—one was the woman who licenced me and Paul nearly three years ago and the other was the social worker for my now-former foster daughter. Both women are very kind and I’ve enjoyed knowing them through this entire process so despite my still recovering from this terrible cold, there was no way I was going to cancel!

Just before our meals arrived, I was handed a small award-trophy-thingy with my name engraved. It seems that I was given the ‘Spirit Award’ at this year’s Foster Parent Appreciation Dinner and I wasn’t in attendance to receive it! Then I was handed a manila envelope that contained a nice card as well as a certificate describing me as an ‘exemplary foster parent’.

Needless to say, I was touched and tears were shed.

Now, not to be all down on myself, but I don’t think that I did anything more than any other foster parent does on a daily basis so receiving such an honour seems unwarranted. And part of me wonders if the sympathy card played a bit in it. I can hear it now: ‘Oh my goodness, this grieving widow just said she’d take this placement that we couldn’t place anywhere else*! We should give her a special award for that!’

But, I have an award. And, other than my varsity letter and a small charm for being the badminton champion at school, this is my first ever award. Yay me!! (Now I need to build a trophy shelf…)

* Placement problems were not to do with my foster daughter, but rather a desperate shortage of licenced foster care homes in the region. Which is sad because fostering is such a rewarding and wonderful thing!

Subtracted

Last August I wrote a post titled Plus One, and for the months between then and now my life was thrown into this weird world of foster mommyhood, with a side of grief and widowhood for good measure. It was a time filled with so many mixed emotions. In the first few weeks I wondered if I’d made a mistake. I mean, it was really hard to have this little person in my home because it was a constant reminder that Paul wasn’t there—nor were the two little people we’d planned to adopt before he died.

But, somehow, we made it work. Her existence in my world meant that I needed to get up off the couch and cook healthy meals again. Her existence meant I couldn’t just sit around on the couch from the time I got home from work until I went to bed wallowing in self pity. No, with her around I needed to make it look like I was a productive, happy, healthy grownup.

And so I found myself [finally] completing my applications to graduate school. And I found myself [finally] eating better and exercising more. And I found myself getting to the office early all of the sudden, since she needed to be at school 20 minutes before I was meant to be at my desk.

Of course, there were loads of hard things I had to deal with, too. I couldn’t just ignore the holidays—no matter how hard I tried. I couldn’t just shut out the world—no matter how much I wanted to.

And slowly, we became a family. A weird, slightly awkward family, but a family none the less.

And now she’s gone and I’m alone in my house once again; a house that was bought with the sole purpose of raising a family with my husband. And I’m lost all over again.

Of course, as I was preparing my foster daughter for her move with family back east, I was also preparing myself for my move to Scotland. So over the next few weeks I will be finishing up the task of packing up my home—closing the doors behind me as I leave knowing that some of my dreams will be staying behind.

Saying goodbye is never easy. And no matter how much you prepare yourself for the inevitable, the tears flow. But I know that as I type this, my lovely [former] foster daughter is in her new home some 3,000 miles away. I imagine she’s excited and nervous about these big life changes, but I know that she’s embarking on an adventure that will lead to an amazing future.

And I hope that, one day, we meet again…

Music lessons; take three

When my foster daughter first came to stay with me, we fell into a habit of listening to the radio on the drives to and from town, about 30 miles away. We both liked country, so it worked for us. Then in the evenings I would put some jazz or a bit of Christy Moore or Mary Black on the Bose. The kid didn’t care for the jazz but seemed to like the Irish tunes so that became our pattern.

Then one day in October I brought my “The Best Scottish Album in the World…Ever” CD out to the car and we discovered that she loved much of that music.

Soon, we were listening to The Paperboys and The Waterboys. Then we added The Clumsy Lovers and The Saw Doctors. And she loved it all. Really, really loved it.

So when I started thinking about what to get her for her birthday in July, it was an easy decision: An iPod filled with her new favourite tunes.

I gave her the gift a couple of days ago because she is leaving for her new home on the east coast tomorrow morning and I won’t get to see her on her birthday. And it would be fair to say that she loved the gift—especially the engraving on the back that says “[Name] is 100% awesome.”

It’s really going to be hard to say goodbye tomorrow, but I hope that she’ll think of me with happy thoughts when she hears the music she was introduced to during our time together. I know that I will never think of The Paperboys without thinking of the kid, that’s for sure!

I do love teaching kids about music! See what I taught my niece, Flik, here or check out her brother, Haden’s, music lesson!

Waiting

I’m waiting—we’re waiting that is—for a flight to take off in Denver so that we can head to the airport to pick up one of the flight’s passengers. You see, my time as a foster mom is quickly coming to an end as my lovely foster daughter prepares to move with family back east. And on that flight is her big sister, who is coming out to pick up the kid.

The kid was so excited when she woke up this morning and even had the hours down before we’d be picking up Big Sis. And when I dropped her off at day care she let everyone know just how many hours it would be until I was back to pick her up so that we could pick up Big Sis.

But sometime around noon I got word that the flight was delayed by an hour. So I didn’t rush to the day care because time was no longer tight. However, when I got there at 3:15, the kid instantly jumped up (she had her jacket on and belongings in her bag around her shoulder) and started heading to the door. I had to remind her that she needed to say goodbye because she wouldn’t be back on Monday. And she did—with smiles from ear-to-ear.

It broke my heart to tell her at that time that the flight was delayed an hour and that we’d be going home to relax for a bit before making the drive to the airport more than an hour north. But then I got another text from Big Sis—with news of further delays.

So now we’re at the house and I’m checking flight details to get the latest updates. The flight is now about 2½ hours delayed which means a later night than imagined. And a kid with anxiety issues wearing ruts in the floor with her back-and-forth pacing.

(There is a reason I will not fly into Denver for connecting flights, you know!)

Anyhow, we’re waiting for Big Sis. And I’m waiting for the tearful goodbyes. It’s such a happy-sad time for both of us right now, and I sometimes I can’t figure out which of us is doing the best job at pretending to be all cool and nonchalant about the whole thing.

Horsin’ around

Like many girls her age, my foster daughter is a horse freak. I mean, she gets really, really, really, excited about the idea of horses. Me? I’m not really into them so much. I mean, I like them and all, but I don’t get excited about them. I don’t think I ever did. (Cats are another matter, however.)

Anyhow, now that the weather is warming (Yay!) and the kid is getting ready to move on to her new, permanent home (mixed emotions!) I’ve realised that I need to show her the various horsey things I’ve been thinking about showing her for a while now.

So, two weeks ago on our way home from her last visit to my homeland, we finally stopped off at the Wild Horses Monument. It’s just past Vantage along I-90 and super easy to stop for a quick hike, but it seems that we’ve never had time, we didn’t have the proper footwear with us, or access was shut because of winter weather.

The day we stopped happened to be the day after I ran 13.1 miles, so my legs weren’t too happy about the last minute decision, but the look of excitement on the kid’s face made it worth it! She went running for the base of the hill at warp speed and if she could have managed that pace for the hike, she would have!

Once at the top, she had to touch and climb on each and every horse. It was great fun to watch her excitement—just as I’ve enjoyed watching the excitement with all of my nieces and nephews when I’ve taken them. I just never get bored of the hike and I know that it made that last drive from my homeland even more meaningful to her!

Then today we were going to go to the WSU Art Museum to watch the Summer Solstice String Quartet. But when I mentioned it the kid looked only mildly excited. So I asked if she’d like to go to the Appaloosa Horse Museum instead. Um, YES PLEASE!

When we got there, she was excited to watch the informational video about the horses whilst she drew a picture on the large sheet of butcher paper they had laid out. Then it was off to look at the other indoor exhibits before heading out back for galloping races and lassoing lessons with the other kids.

Sadly, there is a horse virus going around the region at the moment which means horses can’t travel around so she couldn’t see a real horse this trip. But she seemed pretty happy with the horse necklace I got her in the gift shop so that’s OK.

Anyhow, it’s weird to know that our time is coming to an end. But we both have places to go and happy futures waiting for us, so there are smiles despite the sadness. In the mean time, we have about a week to horse around a bit more. That’ll be fun…

Who am I really talking to?

My lovely foster daughter is getting ready for a major life change and I’m amazed at how well she’s handling it. (Or how well she’s pretending to handle it?) After living with me since mid-August, she is now preparing to move on to her permanent home—far, far away from where she grew up. And I get to help her with this transition.

Part of the move means going through all of her worldly possessions and deciding what she wants to keep. And part of the move means saying goodbye to loved ones, friends, and a school that she’s known her entire life. All of her known world will soon be a reflection in the rear view mirror. (Well, since she’s flying there probably won’t be a rear view mirror, but you get the point.)

Of course, this is a positive transition; one that will see her happily settled with loving family members. She’s really looking forward to it. But at the same time, she has to leave loving family members behind.

We’ve talked about needing to downsize and part with loved possessions because of space limits—and the high cost of shipping or storing things. We’ve talked about what things are worth keeping at any cost versus what things can be given to friends, sold, or donated to charity. We’ve even taken photos of some of those items so that she can remember them.

We’ve talked about how this new world she’s moving to will have different cultural and social expectations—even though it’s still the same country. We’ve talked about how exciting it is to have a fresh start, but also about how sad it is to be leaving her old life behind. We’ve talked about how exciting it is to think of starting 7th grade as the new kid—and about how much of a letdown the reality of that situation might be.

We’ve talked about how happy she is about her bright new future, and about how much she has to give up in order for it to happen. We’ve talked about how sad it will be to leave her old world behind. And we’ve talked about how she’s allowed to be happy and sad all at once and how being happy about her future doesn’t mean that she has to be happy about saying goodbye to her life here.

We’ve talked about how many struggles she’s had here, and how a fresh start won’t mean an end to life’s struggles—it will just mean different struggles. And we’ve talked about how it’s OK for her to miss here when she’s there.

We’ve talked about how her fresh start doesn’t erase the sadness—or the happiness—of her past; it just gives her new opportunities for a bright future. A future that will always include elements from her past. Because, after all, just because she’s in foster care doesn’t mean that she doesn’t have wonderful memories of a wonderful life.

Oh, and we’ve talked about what it’s going to be like to fly, as this will be her first plane journey. And we’ve talked about how we’ll stay in touch and what sorts of cool things she wants me to send her when I move to Scotland. (Pencils and t-shirts: Yes. Candy and stuffed animals (not including Nessie, of course): No.)

It’s funny because these conversations aren’t all about her. When we talk, we talk about how we’re both on these major life-changing journeys and how we’ve both had a lot of sadness in our lives that have been the impetus for our new futures. It’s funny because it’s easier for her to part with her stuff when she sees me doing the same thing. It’s not just her getting rid of ill-fitting clothing in preparation for a move; I’m doing it, too. We’re both downsizing. We’re both filled with emotions of joy and sadness as we look toward our futures and behind to our pasts.

I’m often told what a blessing it is that I’m in the kid’s life, helping her through this time of transition. But you know what? She’s helping me just as much as I’m helping her. Some days I feel that taking on an 11-year-old foster kid whilst I was in the process of grieving for my husband was a bad idea. But most days, I realise that it was the best thing I could have done for both of us.

Anyhow, it just struck me today that all of the assurances I’m giving her to ease her fears and insecurities are the same assurances I need to be giving myself!

And I suppose that you may get to hear a bit more about her transition over the next couple of weeks because it really is a bit of a grieving process for both of us. Luckily, I can blog it out. Sadly, she’s taking it out like any nearly-12-year-old girl would do—lots of hysterical tears and fits over nothing. (Oh, wait! I do that on occasion, too.)

[Original artwork by my foster daughter, October 2010.]

The homeland half

Today was the Inaugural Homeland Memorial Weekend Half Marathon and I came in first place! No, really, I did!

OK, in fairness I was the event’s creator and the only [real] participant. But still, I ran (and walked) 13.1 miles today. Which is probably more than you ran today so please don’t judge me for bragging. And not only that, but I did it with a 6 a.m. start time. (Crazy lady!)

The course was pretty simple and was measured (and marked) by my dad, and we drove it last night so that I could see where each mile point was. It started from my sister’s house, went east out of town to Airport Road then cut to the left onto Masterson Road and left again at Red Bridge. The turn-around was about a mile past The Flying Horseshoe Ranch.

It was a straight out-and-back which meant that all of those blasted hills I had to run up on the first half of the course were hills to run down for the last half! (Which helped!) What helped more was that my dad was waiting at each mile marker to offer water and take photos. Talk about a support team!

And now for the boring mile-by-mile recount:

My 12-year-old nephew was going to do the race with me but I knew before Mile 1 he’d be bailing. Just past Mile 2 we were on a walk-and-water break. And by Mile 3 he joined my dad in his car. By Mile 3.5 Haden was ready to rejoin me.

At Mile 4, my sister, Celeste, had come out for a quick cheer and a photo op. At Mile 5, Haden hopped back in the rig with my dad—having decided he really, really was done. Mile 6 was a chance for a quick water break before I headed the additional .55 miles to the turn around.

At the turn-around (Mile 6.55! Yay!) my jacket came off and I was on the downhill end of the race. Just before Mile 7 my sister showed up again with water and the kids for a final cheering session before heading home to feed everyone breakfast. And just past Mile 8, as I turned back onto Masterson Road, the winds picked up. Cold, hard, miserable winds. And that’s also where my legs started to get mad at me.

By Mile 9 I was starting to wonder what I’d gotten myself into. Not so much with today’s race, but with the thought of my marathon in October. That was also when my mind started to mull over some unspoken words that need spoken to a friend, which started to make me a bit frustrated because I fear they’ll go unsaid forever. Which isn’t exactly motivating!

At Mile 10 I requested my jacket back. The winds were frigid and by this time my legs had given up on me to the point of no running—where for the two miles before I’d been on a walk-run routine. It was frustrating to know that I’d be walking the rest of the race, but I knew that I’d be able to walk fast—it’s just that my legs couldn’t do the running thing anymore. Or so I thought…

By the time I got to Airport Hill (a steep and long-ish hill that I’d run up at the start of the race) I was ready to run down the hill. I continued walking again at the base of the hill and was soon upon Mile 11—Just two miles to go now!! And that 12th mile was hard! I had the cold wind, the sore legs, a nagging question about if I could actually do a marathon, and the thoughts of unspoken words to keep me down.

But then, just before rounding the corner for Mile 12—The Final Mile—I saw my nephew riding his bike toward me. He decided to come out to cheer me on for a bit. It made my heart sing, and my smile came back to my face. At that point, dad headed back to the house and I started to feel a bit more confident—albeit with sore, un-running legs!

And, finally, about two blocks before the finish line, I managed to run again. The heavy winds were complicating that, but the final 100 yards or so was down an alley way where the wind was blocked—and at the finish line were my parents, my sister, my nephew and niece, and my foster daughter. They even had a ribbon for me to run through and a ‘1st Place’ ribbon for my efforts!

I’m tired now. Really, really tired. But I’m well-pleased with my efforts; especially since I didn’t actually train for this. (Oops!)

The Loch Ness Marathon is in just 18 weeks and I’m pretty sure my running partner for that race won’t bail on me (though she’s allowed to run on her own since she’ll be faster than me!). I don’t expect to run it all, but I do expect to finish. I guess I’d best get training!

[Photo credits to my dad, Roy Cook.]

Monday swirls

It has been an emotionally and physically exhausting couple of days. From an out-of-the-blue emotional crash on Friday, to marking the anniversary of my marriage on Saturday, to a long day of preparing for The Big Move on Sunday, I’ve just been feeling battered.

Then, I spent much of this Monday in meetings, meetings, and more bloody meetings.

So when I got home from work—to a peacefully quiet house, thanks to my foster daughter’s burgeoning social life—I took the opportunity to swirl a bit. In fact, I managed so many swirls (and dots!) that I finally finished this piece that I started way back in January!

Oh! And I also spent a bit of time this evening on Facebook brainstorming some awesome names for a potential freelance communications endeavour I’m considering. That was fun and I hope to have more to share with you on that sometime this summer…

And now, I’m off to read in bed for a bit before I call it quits for the night. Nighty-night!

The dressing room

The thing I hate most about buying clothes (second only to parting with money) is trying on clothes. I hate trying on clothes. I hate it so much that if I don’t have success with my first trip to the dressing room, I will often call off my shopping trip and leave. But if I manage the (rare) treat of loving the first thing I try on, I can be encouraged to try on more stuff.

This hatred of trying on clothes is why I own so much old stuff. It fits, I know it fits, it’s comfortable, so I keep wearing it—despite current trends and styles.

But (as is a common theme of this blog lately) I need to start getting rid of stuff. And that means going through all of my clothes and trying stuff on. All of it. After all, there’s no point in transporting something 6,000 miles only to find out it doesn’t fit quite right anymore.

Anyhow, I spent a few hours trying on clothes today. Lots and lots and lots of clothes. And what I’ve found is that I have a lot of clothes that I can ditch without concern. But there’s also a lot of clothes that I can’t seem to part with because I like them and I wear them—despite my owning them for more than a decade. But thanks to Facebook and a digital camera, I am able to get feedback on some things from my friends, which means that the ‘ditch’ pile has grown! (Which is OK.)

As an added bonus, I’ve made my foster daughter go through her clothes, too. I mean, she’s been growing like a weed since her arrival last August and she’ll be moving on to her permanent home soon. It would be unfair of me to send her there with ill-fitting rags. Right?

I made her get rid of jeans that were waaayyy too tight and ones with holes in the britches so she hates me now because she wanted to keep them. And I am evil for making her try on clothes. Bad foster mommy. Bad!

On the plus side, I’ve told her I’d take her shopping since her wardrobe has dwindled considerably because of the chore. She’s happy about that.

I suppose that I should confess at this point that I have yet to go through Paul’s clothes. I know it’s been more than two years, but I haven’t wanted to do it. A friend had [kind of] planned to come out and help, but it never happened so I have to do it alone. I’ve gotten as far as knowing that there are a couple of things I want to keep for myself and I’ve decided that I’ll offer up ties to nephews (and nieces) but I’m at a loss as to how to handle the rest of his clothes. But I’d best figure it out soon! Or maybe I just need to pack it away in storage bins. We’ll see…

Anyhow, it seems I have a lot of extra space in my closet now. And it seems that I’ll have a bit more space in my luggage for important things like gadgets and cough syrup. So that’s cool!

For the last time

Well folks, the Bloomsday 12K results are in. But I’m going to get all melancholy for a bit before I get to that part.

You see, it dawned on me sometime last week that this may very well be the last time I run Bloomsday. It’s not my hometown race and once I leave the Palouse it won’t exactly be convenient to participate. Sure, about a dozen people travel from my hometown for the race each year, but I’m not returning to my hometown; I’m returning to my home county.

It also dawned on me that this was the first time I participated without Paul. We were registered for the race in 2009 but he died a week before the starters’ gun went off. Of course, knowing that it was a matter of ‘when not if’ Paul died, part of me is glad we didn’t run it. I mean, what if the ‘when’ was whilst he was running a race with 50,000 plus people? I don’t know how I could have coped with that. (I know: Whatifs are silly things. But the mind seems to go there from time to time!)

Anyhow, I am a bit sad about my time. I mean, I came in under my goal of 1:45 (just) but it was a whole 23 minutes slower than my last time. And we’ll not talk about what my time would have been in my teens and early-20s when I was at my top fitness!

I know I shouldn’t be upset. After all, my physical, mental, and emotional wellness really took a hit when Paul died and I’m not yet at my pre-widowed levels. (I might not ever be!) I also have to remember that I have had two severe platelet crashes since January—the last of which was just two weeks before the race when I sat in the doctor’s office discussing the possibility of a platelet transfusion. So, really, I probably shouldn’t have been running in the first place! But, I guess that my slow speed is just another indicator of how much life has changed for me in the last two years.

So, now that Bloomsday is done, I guess it’s time to start thinking about that marathon in October. And, of course, the hometown Runner Stumbles 10K over 4th of July weekend—my last American race for who-knows-how-long.

And, finally, here are the times for our group:

  • Nearly-12-year-old nephew, Haden: 1:41:39
  • Me: 1:44:22
  • Nearly-13-year-old niece, Flik: 2:10:14
  • My sister, Celeste: 2:11:31
  • Nearly-12-year-old foster daughter: 2:11:34
  • My neighbour (Kerry): 2:42:28
  • Kerry’s friend, Leslie: 2:42:28

Don’t forget to check out some of our photos, too!

A bloomin’ recap

Bloomsday 2011 is over and I’m alive to tell the story! And after little-to-no training, that is a success in itself. Yay!

I’ll not bore you with all of the details since you already know that I was in the green colour group and that I ran with my nephew, Haden, whilst the rest of our group walked. Instead, I’ll just get to the good stuff and that’s this:

Haden and I ran the entire race. All of it. We ran it all. I really thought that Haden would take a walk break at some point. But, no, he was good to run! And he ran up Doomsday Hill at a rather impressive rate. In fact, once we got to the top of the dreaded hill, Haden was set to finish at a great speed. So, he dashed off in front of me just shy of mile seven and I didn’t see him until I made it past the finish line. I was (and still am!) extremely pleased and impressed with his ability!

The other good stuff is that the rest of our group (the five walkers) all completed the course in one piece. Of course, the cool thing about that is that they’re not athletes and have never walked such a distance in their lives. A couple had recently done five miles, and the other three had walked (sometimes with a bit of jogging) 5Ks a couple of times. So this really was a challenge for them and they are all filled with joy and pride at their accomplishments—as they should be!

And for even more good stuff: New connections were made! My sister and my neighbour really hit it off and it seems everyone enjoyed each other’s company and everyone just had an all-around good time, which is always a treat!

Sadly, there was one instance of the race that upset me. As I was running (slowly) up Doomsday Hill, I was passed by a woman around my age who was probably carrying about 20 pounds more that her frame allowed—wearing spandex shorts and a rather small running top. She wasn’t going much faster than me, but she was making pretty good time. Well, just as I got up to a group of three extremely pretty ‘they’re probably in a sorority’ girls, I overheard them speaking rather disparagingly about the woman and all the jiggling extra bits of her. They were very vocal about how ‘people who look like that’ shouldn’t be allowed to dress like that.

Now, if that were me, I don’t think I’d have chosen that wardrobe. And if she were in the grocery store, I’d have probably been a little snarky (inwardly, mind you) about her choice of clothing. But she was running a 12K road race. Running it. And she was keeping a better pace than me or the silly commentary panel. If that’s the outfit she felt comfortable running in, I say wear it!

Anyhow, it just upset me. And I don’t know if I’m more upset at the offenders for their judgmental comments or at myself for not saying something. Maybe it’s a tie? But I digress…

Now, what you really want are photos and times. Sadly, at nearly 10 p.m. the times aren’t yet posted and I am too beat to wait for them. I will update you on those tomorrow. In the mean time, I guess the photos will have to suffice.

13295 + 48065 = Team Awesome

OK, I admit that I’m generally pretty rubbish at math[s], but I think I’ve done the calculations right this time!

You see, tomorrow morning is the 35th annual Bloomsday 12K in Spokane, Washington, and my nephew, Haden, and I will be running it together. My bib number is 13295; Haden’s is 48065. And together, we equal Team Awesome.

This is Haden’s first-ever 12K and it takes place just three days before his 12th birthday. He’s pretty excited about it, too!

We’ve had a big spaghetti dinner. We’ve hydrated with lots of water all day. We have our race gear set out and ready to go. We have yummy donuts and bananas for a fuelling breakfast tomorrow morning. Yes, we are ready to run!

Oh! And an added bonus is that my sister, niece, foster daughter, neighbour, and neighbour’s friend are all participating in the race, too. They’ll be walking the course. And I believe it will be the furthest any of them have ever walked. They’re all pretty excited about it!

Tune in tomorrow to see how we did!

(Yes, Haden’s number is upside down. He knew this at the time of the photo. He says that he thinks people should learn how to read upside down, apparently.)

Sudoku and swords

People bond over the strangest things. Take, for example, my foster daughter and my ANT* Elizabeth (AE) who met for the first time on Sunday. The night AE arrived with my cousin, Carson, the two of them sat at the dining room table pouring over the kid’s artwork (which really is good). Then the next morning they discovered that they both enjoy Sudoku. After that number-arranging connection was made, the two of them spent time each day curled up on the love seat talking about the awesomeness of the puzzles whilst working on their own books.

Sadly, it all ended yesterday morning when the kid had to say goodbye to her new friend who would be leaving before she returned home from school. So, the kid handed AE her puzzle book and asked if she would do a couple of the puzzles for her so that she had a memory to keep forever—a request that AE was very happy to oblige.

And—oh!—the kid was so thrilled when we returned home and she saw that not only did AE complete two puzzles in her book (complete with a thoughtful inscription noting their eternal Sudoku bond) but she also left behind her own Sudoku book for the kid to complete. Let’s just say that AE has a new fan club!

Of course, other people bond over things that aren’t so strange. Take, for example, the enjoyment my cousin and I took in sharing our common interests. It was Braveheart this and BritLit that and UK-related reference the next thing, followed by pretentious references to one geeky thing or another, as you do.

But Carson didn’t leave me a puzzle book. Instead, I sent him home with a parting gift: Three of Paul’s reproduction swords—two of which were Hollywood versions of the Braveheart sword. Yes, Carson will be showing off to his Braveheart-loving friends for quite some time with those things!

I think it’s fair to say that the four of us had a lovely visit. Too bad it had to come to an end.

* Aunt Elizabeth prefers me to call her Ant Elizabeth. Apparently, she’s not a fan of the rhymes-with-flaunt pronunciation. And since I love my Ant Elizabeth, I am happy to oblige—right down to the spelling of her name, which she now uses in correspondence with me.

Growing up

Well, it’s been a week since my foster daughter planted her fairy garden and I have to say I was sceptical as to if anything would grow. But it’s looking pretty good I think.

Oh! And my aunt and cousin will be here in a short while to visit for a few days. It seems that my awesome cousin has been accepted to WSU (starts this autumn) and they’re coming out to visit campus. I’m telling you this now so that if I’m remiss in my blogging duties (haven’t missed a day since January 28) you know it’s a happy thing and not an April thing.

The fairy’s new digs

My foster daughter got a fairy garden set for Christmas that included a little fairy cottage and toadstools for her to decorate along with loads of other sparkly and wonderful things to make the fairy’s home and surrounding garden a place of wonderment.

And on Sunday, she finally got around to opening the box.

She painted the things that needed painting then spread the soil into the flower-shaped container. After a considerable amount of time placing all of the gem-encrusted paths and other bits-and-bobs in just the right place, she finally planted the seeds in the two back quadrants. Then she watered it and spent the rest of Sunday adamant that she could already see something growing. (She was mistaken, as whist there were beans in the seed mix, they were not magical ones that sprouted in less than three hours.)

Monday and Tuesday she looked with excitement when she woke up then again when we returned home. And each day she was a little sad that there were no green sprouts.

But this morning when we woke, we noticed that the soil was bulging like crazy in the two sections she’d planted in. And on closer inspection, we could see that several of the seeds and beans were, in fact, beginning to sprout.

I suspect that the fairy will need to get out in the garden for some weeding in the next few days!

(Oh, and you can expect another photo or two of the growing process because the kid is adamant that this project will make for a good read on my blog and I think she’s right. I hope you agree!)

Dinner for grownups

Sometimes things are so crazy when I first get home from work that I can’t really sit down for dinner.

Thankfully, I have quick meal options for my foster daughter on those days; which meant that when we got home late today and I needed to feed the kid quickly so that I could get ready for a visitor, I was able to pop some nutritious, homemade split pea soup in the microwave for her.

Of course, by the time our visitor left and I got the kid to bed, there wasn’t really time for me to cook something for me. Nor did I have the energy.

So I guess it’s a good thing that I had fixings for a proper grownup dinner in the house: Ice cream and toppings and a pack of ginger biscuits.

Yum! Dinner’s ready!

On beating children

I beat two children today. I didn’t plan to do it. I mean, I expected to beat one, but the other just happened. I also beat two adults. Sadly, I was beaten by a child, too.

Now, my guess is that you understand the joke. If the photo didn’t give it away, however, I’ll be a little clearer.

Today was the 3rd Annual Finaghty’s St. Patty’s 5K in Snoqualmie, Washington, and I participated with my two 11-year-old nephews, Adrian and Haden, my 11-year-old foster daughter, my sister, Celeste, and her friend David. My 13-year-old niece was going to join us but she was home sick. Oh, and my awesome parents came to show their support. As in: Daddy took photos whilst Mommy held handbags and jackets for the runners.

This was my foster daughter’s first-ever race so she held back with Celeste and David walking much of the course. The only runners in the group were me and the boys. And I was pretty confident that Haden would be in first, followed by Adrian, then me.

But I passed Adrian at the first mile marker and he wasn’t able to catch back up. (Please remember this was only his second race, and it was very hilly. This was probably the first and only time I’ll be beating him!)

Now, we’re all beat tired. But not so beat that we’re not already talking about our next race, the Bloomsday 12K in Spokane, Washington. In fact, we’re even talking about getting loads of folks to join us for a Team Buggie mojo-rally! (Stay tuned for confirmation and/or details of said rally.)

Mmm… a nice cold beer sounds good right about now.

Oh! You want times, too! So here goes:

Haden: 30:02
Just Frances: 32:16
Adrian: 36:15
My lovely foster daughter: 49:28
David: 49:34
Celeste: 49:44

Check out more race photos at Run Frances, Run!

Sans pancakes

Well, it’s Pancake Day and I’ve managed to remember and forget and remember and forget and remember all since I woke up. Of course, by the time I had my final remembering moment it was too late to plan for a pancake dinner.

It’s funny, because for days and days I’ve been excited about tomorrow—Ash Wednesday. I’ve got my work calendar blocked out so that I can attend Mass and I’ve even given a great amount of thought as to how I could do my ritual fast without affecting my foster daughter’s meals. (As she’s only 11 and not Catholic, I don’t feel it’s fair to make her fast. However, she’ll be participating in “Fish Fridays” with me until Easter.)

So, with not enough time to prepare pancakes, I did the next best thing: I picked up a couple of cream puffs on my way home—and a fun secular Easter-themed PEZ dispenser.

And now that I’ve feasted a bit, I am ready to prepare my heart and soul for the Lenten season.

(Check out last year’s post about my views on Lent here.)

It’s done!

When I began stitching my foster daughter’s Christmas afghan back in October, I really thought I would be able to finish it. But with the holidays came a bit of depression, which—added to the fact that I could only stitch when she was sleeping—meant that the project was slow going.

Since I showed her the partial gift on Christmas day, it meant that I was able to work on it in front of her finally. Of course, the post-holiday depression was still there and I wasn’t quite as motivated as I thought I’d be.

However, a couple of weeks ago I got my mojo back and started hooking at warp speed, which means that two months after Christmas, it’s finally done.

And the best thing is that the kid is super happy about it!

Oh, and she happily pointed out the other day that it’s purple and green so she’ll always remember me because purple is her favourite colour and green is mine! (Aw, bless her little cotton socks!)

Passing the baton

I think that one of the saddest things about not having children is the knowledge that there’s no one to pass on your traditions to. Paul and I were so excited about adopting and that was one of the exciting things for us: Passing on our knowledge, love, and traditions to future generations.

Because we were both runners, and generally ran in a race about once a month, we spoke excitedly about the possibility that our future children would enjoy the sport along with us. We looked forward to the day when the four of us could go to races as a family. We even decided that we’d take turns running for time so that one of us could run or walk slowly with the kids whilst the other ran hard to make time.

When I ran my first race after Paul died, I was thrilled to be joined by my then 10-year-old nephew, Haden. I was even more thrilled to see how much he enjoyed the race. And even more thrilled when he became my new running partner and started to talk excitedly about the day he could join the school cross country team.

One year later, I was joined by the now 11-year-old Haden and my other 11-year-old nephew, Adrian, for a race. And by this time, my 11-year-old foster daughter was starting to regret her hatred for sports.

When I mentioned to my foster daughter that Haden, Adrian, and I were participating in a 5K in mid-March, she felt a bit left out and wanted to know if she could join us. Yes, this from a girl who throws a fit at the thought of walking from one end of the mall to another—a self-titled hater of exercise.

So, we made a deal. If she could run two miles—non-stop and without complaining—I would sign her up for the St. Paddy’s 5K, too.

Today, my foster daughter ran two miles in 21:30. And she did it without complaining. (Well, she’s been complaining about her legs being sore since the run, but she didn’t complain during the run!)

I’m really pleased that in the past 13 months I’ve managed to get three kids excited about my favourite sport.

And I’m really pleased that I will have three 11-year-old running partners for my next race.

And I’m really pleased that despite the fact that I may never have children of my own to pass on my knowledge and traditions to, I am still having a [hopefully positive] impact on the next generation.

(And I hope that when I’m a decrepit, childless, old lady with no one to care for me, that these children remember me and stop by the old folks’ home from time-to-time to wipe the drool off my chin!)

100 random things

My friend posted a list of 100 random things her daughter wrote about herself out of boredom and I thought I’d give it a shot and create my own list. So, if you’re not already bored, this should help…

100 Random Things about Just Frances

  1. I am the preantepenultimate Cook Girl.
  2. I enjoy showing off my vocabulary skills.
  3. I cringe when I see incorrect grammar, spelling, and punctuation. But I only correct errors when I’m being paid to do so. [To clarify: I generally correct the errors in my mind, but only tell people of the errors when I’m paid or otherwise requested to do so.]
  4. I think that demonstrating the ability to change a vehicle’s tires and oil should be a compulsory part of passing a drivers’ license test.
  5. I wear glasses and will never get eye surgery because I like that the glasses obscure the fact that I don’t wear makeup.
  6. I’m a distance runner. (Well, I dabble in the sport at least.)
  7. I am Catholic.
  8. I joined the school cross country team because the coach asked me after church in front of my dad and the priest. How could I say no?
  9. I have never felt at home in my hometown.
  10. I am proud of my small town red neck roots.
  11. I found my true place of belonging in Scotland nearly 10 years ago.
  12. I am returning to Scotland later this year!!
  13. I am rubbish at math[s] and I don’t care.
  14. I am correct handed (also known as left handed).
  15. I believe that there is a conspiracy in the works by right-handers who are jealous of us amazing lefties. Even pens are made with righties in mind! (But not all of them!)
  16. I have hazel eyes that are more on the green end of the spectrum, but wish that I had truly green eyes.
  17. I pretend to be happy even when I’m sad.
  18. I can’t fake tears; I’ve tried.
  19. I am dyslexic. (Yet I edit things for a living. Ironic!)
  20. I had speech therapy as a child.
  21. I am the co-inventor of the term SUBS Syndrome and hope that one day the term is widely used to describe the condition of sudden, uncontrollable bursts of sarcasm.
  22. I honestly believe that the media is helping to perpetuate ignorance in our society. The biggest culprit being the “news” media.
  23. My master’s degree will be in media and culture, so I’ll get to do a lot of research on this very issue!
  24. I once sang on stage with Pat Benatar who was opening at the Gorge Amphitheatre for the Steve Miller Band. Really. True story.
  25. I’m a little bit country and a little bit rock-n-roll all at once.
  26. I like candy, but I could live without chocolate.
  27. I love to fly!
  28. I prefer the aisle seat on airplanes.
  29. I say a prayer asking God to guide the hands of the crew and to keep us safe in our journey; and I ask that if His plans don’t include our survival that He comfort our loved ones. I do this for every take off and landing because something compels me to.
  30. I try to order low-sodium meals on the plane and drink lots of water so that I’m refreshed and non-puffy when I arrive. I even wash my face 2-3 times on long flights to/from the UK. I think it helps the jetlag. But that might not be true.
  31. I can’t decide which movies I like better: The Godfather series or the Monty Python movies.
  32. I have polycystic kidney disease. It’s a genetic condition with no cure. But some smart people are working to find a cure!
  33. I have a blood disease called idiopathic thrombocytopenia purpura. Even the haematologists who study it don’t know much about it. Which sucks for me.
  34. Despite my medical maladies, I think I’m mostly healthy.
  35. I dream that my doctor will one day say “To live a long and healthy life you must eat lots of good steak and salty, deep-fried foods, drink lots of wine, and smoke.” Of course, if I hear those words I know it’s time to find a new doctor.
  36. I cry myself to sleep at least once a week.
  37. I recently ended a friendship that I didn’t want to end. I’m sure it will be one of the reasons I cry myself to sleep over the next few weeks.
  38. I haven’t slept through the night since Paul died.
  39. I sometimes wonder if I’ll ever sleep well again.
  40. I thought that I was ugly growing up because one of my sisters told me over and over again that I was. (Funny, we all look alike!)
  41. I thought that I was stupid growing up because a couple of my teachers said I was.
  42. As an adult, I’ve learned to love myself and know that I’m good looking and intelligent.
  43. One of my Paul’s friends told me that I’m a great person and I’ll find someone new when I’m ready—but that I’d have better luck if I’d dumb it down a bit. (Said person has likely never been married for a reason.)
  44. Several of Paul’s friends have become my friends and I don’t think I could have survived the world without him without them.
  45. I didn’t go on my first date until I was 20 years old.
  46. I married my first true love.
  47. We were a month shy of our 4th anniversary when he died.
  48. I try to be happy and enjoy life because I know it’s what Paul wants for me.
  49. I sometimes think that I’ll meet someone new and fall in love and get married again and I know that Paul would be OK with that. But I can’t be bothered to date because no one is good enough for me.
  50. Thinking that no one was good enough for me is what gave me a reputation for being an overly-picky dater in my 20s.
  51. Being an overly-picky dater meant that when I did land a man, I got the best one on the market!
  52. A stupid woman once told me that the reason I can’t have kids is that God thinks I’d be a bad mom.
  53. I have been a foster mom for a little over six months now—so at least the State of Washington thinks I’d be a good mom!
  54. Paul and I planned to adopt two adorable children before he died.
  55. Sometimes I’m heartbroken that I may never get to be someone’s mom.
  56. I have 17 nieces and nephews and 2 great nephews.
  57. It irritates some of my sisters that their children want to be so much like me.
  58. I’ve had green hair. And pink, purple, blue, yellow, orange, jet-black, and bleach-blonde. Sometimes multiple colours all at once!
  59. My favourite colour is green.
  60. My first car was a 1978 Ford Granada.
  61. My friends and I sanded it down, primed it black, and then painted a big yellow smiley face on the hood and flowers and peace signs all over the body. It was awesome.
  62. I passed my driving test on the first try.
  63. I taught Paul how to drive.
  64. I’ve taught some of my nieces and nephews how to shift gears. (But please don’t tell their moms!)
  65. I have a fascination with butterflies and have since I was a young child.
  66. I have a butterfly tattoo.
  67. I played clarinet in the school band.
  68. I am training for the Loch Ness Marathon.
  69. I am a Pisces.
  70. I was born in the Year of the Tiger.
  71. I don’t believe in astrology stuff.
  72. I will be 37 years old on Monday.
  73. I don’t really like to make a fuss about my birthday.
  74. I have read dictionaries and encyclopaedias for entertainment since I was in junior high.
  75. I don’t like romance novels because they make me uncomfortable.
  76. My friends think I am a prude.
  77. I try never to use profanity because I think it’s vulgar and shows a lack of respect. (But sometimes it slips out in a heated moment of upset.)
  78. I taught myself how to knit and crochet but can only make basic things like scarves and afghans.
  79. I like root beer.
  80. I don’t really care for Coke or Pepsi.
  81. When I was in my late-teens and early-20s, I’d hang out at the local 24-hour diner with my friends drinking coffee and eating cheesy fries with ranch dressing. It was awesome!
  82. I am considered a computer and gadget geek by my family and friends.
  83. I love Doctor Who, but I hate SciFi.
  84. I define SciFi as anything I don’t like.
  85. I always like to have the best gadgets in the room. Sadly, some of my new friends are gadget geeks with better incomes so this is hard to do now.
  86. I love my family.
  87. I am going to miss my cat, Schrodie, so much when I move to Scotland.
  88. I am going to miss my family so much when I move to Scotland.
  89. I used to have Mork & Mindy suspenders (braces) when I was a kid and I wish I still had them now.
  90. I loved Weebles as a child. They were awesome they way they weebled and wobbled but didn’t fall down!
  91. I always wanted tassels on my handlebars when I was a kid. But not so much that I got them as an adult.
  92. My favourite toys growing up were a telescope, a microscope, a rocket kit, and an electric circuit board kit.
  93. I don’t like gold-coloured jewellery.
  94. I like dirty martinis with extra olives.
  95. I drink my coffee strong and black with no sugar.
  96. I am excited about starting grad school in September.
  97. I am afraid that I am ruining myself financially by going to grad school.
  98. I am convinced that going to grad school will fix me emotionally and mentally.
  99. I am excited about my future for the first time since Paul died.
  100. I feel guilty for being happy about this new life, even though I know Paul would be happy for me.

Wow! That was hard! Are you still reading? You deserve an award for that!!

Edited to add: Since folks have been asking where/what their award is, I feel it’s fair (OK, not fair but cheap) for me to say the award is knowing me that little bit better. Sorry it’s so lame! (But thanks for reading!)

Pick a card

I’m in clutter-clearing mode and today’s task is my stationery drawer. The drawer is well-past its clear-out date, especially since it’s been difficult to close for nearly two years!

In the drawer are stacks and stacks of cards that I’ve owned for years and years but have no intention of ever using. There are also fantastic cards that I’ve acquired in recent years (and months and weeks) that get used quite quickly. And, of course, there is stationery—nice stuff that I use, as well as stuff I don’t use but I’ve had for years and just keep.

There are wax seals and golden sticker seals. There are wax sticks and matches. There are fun stickers and air mail stickers. And there are even stamps.

Of course, there is no point in packing these things up and taking them to Scotland with me if I won’t use them so I am getting ready to part with much of the stuff.

Of the 130+ cards, I am keeping about 30. And of those cards, I will probably use 10-15 before I move. (I’ll be buying more over the next few months for birthdays, too, but they get sent immediately.)

Of the stationery, I am keeping the parchment and cotton papers as well as my favourite hand-made papers. The stuff with embossed yellow roses and matching envelopes? Gone!

I’m keeping the wax and a couple of the wax seals as well as the gold seals, but will ditch most of the stickers. As for the stamps, well, I’ll be using most of them before I leave.

The rest of the stuff I’m giving to my foster daughter. I think she’ll like it and I know she’ll use it. Oh, and because I love to get mail, I will be giving her my UK address and a stack of international-use stamps so that she can write any time she wants!

The best part about this exercise in de-cluttering is that I’m now in letter-writing mode. As some of my friends may attest, I enjoy sending random cards and letters to the people I care about, because everyone likes to get mail that isn’t a bill.

And now a public service announcement: Write to your mother! Or your sister or father or brother or former teacher or even a long-lost friend you want to reconnect with. It will make you smile—and I bet it will make the recipient smile, too!

Catch a falling star

I was standing in the kitchen making dinner when my foster daughter asked me if I’d ever heard the song “Catch a Grenade” which prompted me to ask if it went something like this:

[Sung to the tune of Catch a Falling Star]

Catch a gre-e-na-ade;
Don’t put it in your pocket;
Never throw the pin away.

Catch a gre-e-na-ade;
Don’t put it in your pocket;
Save it for apocalypse.

And another verse or two before I gave up. Then she sang a verse or two of the actual song. Her version of the song wasn’t as good as mine.

But here’s the thing: She has never heard the song Catch a Falling Star. Never. She didn’t recognise the tune at all. It was a sad, sad moment. But she knows it now. And she’s not happy that I’ve been dancing around the house singing it at the top of my lungs since after dinner. I’m embarrassing her, apparently.

And here it is for you to enjoy on this lovely, starry night. And if it prompts you to sing and dance in front of your loved ones, that’s a good thing!

Friendship bracelets

My foster daughter was given a friendship bracelet making kit for Christmas. I remember thinking it was a silly thing to sell as a kit. I mean, all you need is a bit of embroidery floss and a safety pin, right? But she seemed happy about the gift, so I wasn’t about to tell her what a silly thing it was.*

Fast forward to last night, and I found her in her room attempting to use the kit for the first time; and hating it. She decided—on her own—that the kit was worthless. Instead, she decided that she would just braid the floss together. Of course, braiding wouldn’t have the same look as a friendship bracelet from the kit with the fancy ‘weaving wheel’. But she decided that something was better than nothing.

Seeing her disappointment, I quickly rounded up the floss that came with the kit, grabbed a pair of scissors and a safety pin, and sat her down next to me on the couch for a quick lesson in friendship bracelets.

I was very pleased with myself because after not having made a friendship bracelet in 20+ years, I actually remembered how! And I must have been an OK instructor because the kid picked it up immediately and has already made two bracelets since last night. She is practicing with different patterns and types of knots and should have the skill mastered by the end of the weekend. She even managed to take my left-handed instructions and reverse them for using her non-left (wrong?) hand.

Me? I attempted at one this evening and realised two things before giving up: 1) I have too many other projects going at the moment to get wrapped up in a new one and 2) I don’t know if my friends would wear one if I gave them one anyhow. (But after my afghans are done, I think I might make some bracelets for my friends anyhow. I bet they’d smile if I gave them one, even if it never got worn.)

[The top photo is my foster daughter working on her third bracelet. The bottom photo is what I did before giving up for the night in favour of blogging and crocheting.]

* In all fairness, it was a very nice, very kind gift from a community programme that gives gifts to foster children. It’s just that I grew up making bracelets by hand and sort of thought that a kit that does the weaving for you is cheating. But maybe hand-knotting bracelets is one of those traditions that doesn’t get passed from one generation to the next?

Ripples

So, this is my foster daughter’s Christmas present. Not for next Christmas but for the one just past. Can you believe that I’m still working on it? I seem to be a bit slow in making these ripples.

The good thing is that now that she knows I’m making it, I can stitch when she’s still awake. The bad thing is that I haven’t felt the urge to stitch the past few weeks.

I think I’m about a quarter of the way done, which means I’d best get hooking!

Fannies and haggis

The second annual “Freeze Your Fanny and Burns’ Supper Extravaganza” weekend is officially over and I think it was a great success! There were 18 of us for dinner all together and everyone seemed to enjoy the haggis!

I realize that there is so much to say about such a fun-filled weekend, but rather than a big story, I’ll just give some of the highlights then you can check out the photo gallery and YouTube videos for more details. So, here’s how the weekend went:

  • Most everyone arrived Friday evening and we had a blast playing games and visiting.
  • My 11-year-old nephews, Haden and Adrian, and I ran the Freeze Your Fanny 5K on Saturday morning where Haden took 2nd place in his age group and Adrian took 3rd. This was Haden’s second time running the race and Adrian’s first-ever race. (Final times: Haden: 30:04; Adrian: 33:04; Me: 36:50, which isn’t bad since I’d just come off bed rest and took it easy.)
  • Flik and Dad had a Scrabble re-match where, though Daddy won, Flik showed a vast improvement to her skills. (Final score: 226 – 281)
  • Various sisters, uncles, and nieces hiked Kamiak Butte on Saturday and Sunday.
  • Celeste, believe it or not, hiked Kamiak twice in one day!
  • Jessica won the Hula Hoop competition.
  • With all of the food served throughout the weekend, I didn’t wash a single dish! (Thanks to my awesome sisters!)
  • I also didn’t peel any neeps or tatties!
  • Everyone tried the haggis and most had at least a second serving if not a third. In fact, many people even had fried haggis for breakfast on Sunday!
  • Saturday’s dinner ended with Flik playing Auld Lang Syne on her trumpet.
  • Sunday ended with my foster daughter very upset over saying goodbye to her new best friend, my niece Cassandra. (They’ll meet again, for sure!)
  • We laughed and laughed and laughed and had a lot and a lot and a lot of fun all weekend long! (Except for the goodbye tears.)

Check out photos from the weekend here!

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And check out some fun videos from the weekend below!

Insanity descends

Oh my, oh my, oh my! My normally quiet home has transcended into a mad house! But it’s a happy mad house.

Yep, the house is chock-a-block with parents and aunts and uncles and siblings and nieces and nephews and friends as we all gear up for the 2nd Annual Freeze Your Fanny and Burns’ Supper Extravaganza. (See the story and photos from the inaugural event here.)

The family began arriving around 2:00 this afternoon and it wasn’t long before the house was filled with laughter and chatter. In fact, the laughter and chatter was still going at nearly 1:00 a.m.—well past my normal bed time. But as my bedroom is the living room couch, I was forced to participate. (Happily so.)

Tomorrow will start bright-and-early for those of us travelling to Lewiston for the Freeze Your Fanny 5K. This will be my 11-year-old nephew, Haden’s, second time running the race (last year’s race was his first-ever race) and will be my 11-year-old nephew, Adrian’s, first-ever race of all time. Unbelievably, this will be my 4th entry in the race. Though, with the aforementioned illness, I’ll now be taking it slow.

Whilst we’re running, Dad and my niece, Flik, will meet in the living room for a Scrabble re-match as Flik tries to de-throne Daddy. There are loads of games and puzzles—and a few hula hoops—for everyone to play with, too.

Schrodie is not happy about the influx of people, but I think she’ll get over it.

Oh, and that photo, if you wondered, is a load of Scottish treats (Tunnock’s!!!) that my Uncle Fred brought with him from Portland, Oregon. If you look closely, you’ll notice the Scotch tape and the napkins—with an Argyle pattern, of course. (His socks were Argyle for the occasion, too, if you wondered.)

I’m [not] Scottish

I am American, born and bred to American parents. My ancestors are Germans from Russia. This means that I am not, contrary to the insistence of some, Scottish. (But I hope to be one day!)

But I have a great affinity for Scotland because it’s the one place in the entire world I’ve ever felt truly settled—the one place I’ve ever felt that I truly belong. Paul wasn’t Scottish, either. No, contrary to popular belief, he was English. (From the North East, if you wondered.) But Paul shared a passion for Scotland and when he moved there for university he stayed put until we settled in America. Because of our shared love for Scotland, we incorporated the traditions of our adopted home into our lives. After all, home is where the heart is.

But now I have a foster daughter who knows several things to be true: I speak with a funny accent; I lived in Scotland; I want to return to Scotland; I have lots of friends in Scotland (and family in England); and that I think Scotland is the greatest place in the world.

She also assumes several things and just won’t believe me when I tell her otherwise. Mainly that I am Scottish. I’m not; but she just shrugs her shoulders and says I seem Scottish to her.

Well, now that I’m in the midst of planning Burns’ Supper, my foster daughter is learning loads of great things about Scotland and Robert Burns. And she’s even more insistent that I am Scottish.

So today when she was in the computer lab at school, she saw a link on one of the school-sanctioned websites about Robert Burns. She clicked it and started reading everything about the man then recognized a link as a song we listened to on New Year’s Eve, so she printed out the lyrics to Auld Lang Syne. Then she had to explain to her teacher why she was wasting resources.

Apparently, the teacher is familiar with Burns’ Night and was very excited to hear about how the kid’s ‘Scottish foster mom’ is having a big Burns’ Supper complete with haggis, neeps, and tatties.

You know how they say if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em? Well, I can’t seem to beat this Scottish wrap, so I may as well just brogue up and break out my Harris Tweed and shortbread!

Saving cash; depleting clutter

Like many of you, I have a habit of taking home soaps and other toiletries from hotels. And, like I’m sure some of you, I never actually use them. Yet, still, I take them.

The stuff I get from cheapy hotels sits in a plastic bag. That stuff smells bad. Well, not bad, but like perfume. (Ick.)

The stuff I get from fancy hotels sits in a nice wicker basket. That stuff smells nice. And it’s actually name-brand products from around the globe. But, still, I never use it.

But, I’m trying to pinch pennies. And I’m trying to de-clutter. So now the stuff is going to get used.

My foster daughter actually likes smelly stuff, so as soon as she’s out of her stinky body wash gel, she will be handed a bar of Motel 6 soap. And later Holiday Inn and Sheraton* soaps. Same thing when she’s out of shampoo, conditioner, and lotion. And only once all the free stuff is gone will we buy new stuff.

I will be using the fancy soaps—L’Occitane, Neutrogena, Bath & Body Works. A couple of them are lightly-scented, but not perfumey. And I will be using the fancy hair stuff, too—John Frieda, Pantene, Bath & Body Works. Again, not too smelly.

I even have some dental floss, tooth paste, and deodorant. As well as a few other bits-and-bobs. And several free sewing kits, of which I think I’ll give one to a friend because I recall him needing—yet not having—a needle and thread once.**

Now, I cannot promise that I will not add more free stuff to the mix, and I cannot promise that I won’t buy new stuff from time-to-time, but at least I’ll be saving money and clearing out some clutter.

* OK, Sheraton hotels are not really on the cheap end of the spectrum, but they do use smelly products so their toiletries get tossed in with the cheap stuff.
** I know it sounds cheap to give free stuff to friends, but it’s not like it’s a proper gift and it’s not like it’s really a gift so much as a gesture of goodwill.

No sleep for the artist

My foster daughter has just brought me a lovely drawing that she made last night when she couldn’t sleep. She proudly proclaimed that she hid her signature underneath some of the sketching so that I could scan it and share it online (because she knows I won’t use her name on my blog).

As always, the kid has some real talent!

Of course, after admiring her art work I started to worry that she wasn’t sleeping but was instead up all hours of the night drawing. (No wonder she’s tired this morning!) Her insomnia worried me for a few minutes, then I remembered that she had a Christmas visit with her Mom last night—a visit that included loads of sugary treats and fizzy drinks. Which would explain her inability to sleep. And maybe even her slightly sore belly today. (I’ll note here that I’m all about the sugary treats and fizzy drinks for special occasions!)

But, I digress…

Here’s The Kid’s amazing drawing for you to enjoy!

Not finished!

Yesterday I shared the finished scarf for my foster daughter’s Christmas present. Today, I’m sharing the unfinished afghan!

Thankfully, she is off mucking out stalls in a neighbour’s horse barn right now. (Really.) I’m taking advantage of the free time to get a few rows done. At this rate, the afghan will be bigger than the scarf by Christmas morning.

Yay!

2010 Christmas card and letter

I sent out my holiday Christmas cards on Monday and, as promised, am sharing the card and letter with all of you. After all, just because you’re not on my mailing list doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get the fun of a Christmas card and letter. Right? So, without further ado …

Dear Family and Friends

As I sat to write my 2010 Christmas letter, I struggled with how to start it. It’s difficult to write a letter about all of the wonderful things I’ve experienced the past year when all of those wonderful things were shadowed with grief. But still, there were wonderful things to share.

The year got off to a slow start as I’d taken ill on Christmas and wasn’t feeling better until mid-way through January. But by the end of the month, I was running the “Freeze Your Fanny 5K” with my then 10-year-old nephew, Haden. It was my first race since Paul died and Haden’s presence made it much easier for me. (This was Haden’s first-ever race.) That same day, I hosted a Burns’ Supper at my house—complete with haggis, neeps, and tatties. And proper Scotch, of course.

In late-February and early-March, my Mom and I took a trip to the UK. Our first stop was England where we attended the Ryan Family Reunion. We then drove up to Scotland making several stops along the way. It was Mom’s first trip overseas and I was so pleased to be showing her around. I think the she understands a bit more why I feel so at home in Scotland now that she’s experienced it.

April and May, if I’m honest, were blurs as I marked the anniversary of Paul’s death as well as what would have been our 5th wedding anniversary. But, like the months before and after, I managed to make it through with the support and love of my family and friends.

Over the summer I spent time running and playing golf, reading and writing, and working—a lot. I also managed to attend my first-ever girls’ weekend at one point at The Beach House near Vantage, Washington, and ran in my hometown’s Runner Stumbles 5K over Fourth of July Weekend. (And whilst it wasn’t in the summer, my new running partner wouldn’t forgive me if I didn’t say it: Haden and I also ran in the Spokane, Washington, 10K on 10-10-10.)

Of course, one of the biggest changes in the last year is that I’ve become a foster mom to an 11-year-old girl. [The Kid] came to stay with me in mid-August and will be with me [until she’s not with me anymore]. She is a great kid; full of energy and very artistic. She is intelligent and funny and has this sceptical little look about her when I’m telling hilarious jokes. (She doesn’t think they’re as funny as I do.)

So there you have it: 2010 in a nutshell. If this little update wasn’t enough for you, please feel free to check out my awesome blog (www.JustFrances.com) for loads of up-to-date exciting happenings with my boring life!

I am looking forward to 2011 and am certain it will have great things in store for me. It won’t be the same without Paul to share it with, but I am blessed to have all of you to help celebrate life with me. Your support and love has been amazing. I hope that the past year has been good to you, and that the year to come brings you all of the joy and happiness you deserve.

Merry Christmas!
Just Frances

Tree time

With less than two weeks before Christmas, I am trying to get into the spirit. I’ll admit it’s difficult, but I am trying.

I had planned to bring out all of my decorations this morning but when it came right down to it, I guess I’m not ready to display those memories this year. So, this afternoon I loaded the kid up and we went to town to buy a new tree.

We decided that we would get a small tree that could go on the plant stand and were pleased to find one that had pinecones and fake berries already on the tree. That meant we just needed to get a small package of bobbles and some pretty garland to finish it off.

The kid made a lovely star to top the tree and did all the decorating herself. (After I tied string onto the bobbles.) She was extremely pleased with the tree—and even more pleased to know that it’s her tree that she can take with her when she decides she’s sick of living with me.

I know it’s not a big, traditional tree, but we decided it works for us. Plus, the kid liked the idea that because it’s her tree (and more importantly, doesn’t have my precious ornaments from my childhood) she can re-arrange it as often as she wants. She’s just not allowed to touch the presents under it!

Oh! And for those wondering, I have managed enough Christmas spirit to make cards and write my annual letter this year. (Can I call it an annual letter, having missed last year’s?) Anyhow, if you’re on my list, expect it in the post soon because I’m heading out to mail them tomorrow.

If you’re not on my list, please know that it’s nothing personal and I still think you’re awesome! (And it’s really just a re-hash of things you’ve read here, so you’re not missing anything!) BUT, I will post a picture of the card later for all of my curious readers!

So tree and cards are sorted. Now I suppose I’d best go buy some gifts, since I’ve yet to even think about that!

Twee tweety tenement

I was give a little bird house the other day by my foster daughter. She came home and rather unceremoniously handed it to me on her way to her room, whilst I was in the middle of a conversation with the woman who’d driven her home. So I set it down on a side table, finished my conversation, then went to check on the kid who was getting ready for bed.

Two days later, I notice the birdhouse sitting there. I picked it up and asked the kid to tell me what the deal was with the birdhouse.

She told me that she painted it special for me so that I can take it to Scotland with me next time and hang it in a tree. Then, I need to take photos of all the birds that come to visit it to send to her because she wants to know what Scottish birds look like.

So this is the way we do things I guess. When I leave the country, I am bound by duty to send photos of something to her. On my trip to England in September she wanted airplane photos and on my up-coming trip to Canada she wants pictures of my friends. And as I like to travel and take pictures, I’m totally OK with these requests!

But don’t be fooled. She always wants real presents—and real candy—from my travels. But she’s a sweetie, so I’m happy to oblige!

I can do it! [So says The Kid]

My foster daughter is pretty excited about my plans to run a marathon. She thinks I’m an amazing runner and that I’ll do really well. In fact, she is convinced that I will be in the top 10.

Yes, really. Even when I explained that last year there were more than 2,400 runners. Even when I explained that the top 50 last year all ran it in less than 3 hours and I ‘hope’ to finish mine in under 6.

Her response was, basically: “Well you won’t win with that attitude.”

OK, there is no way on God’s Earth that I will make it in the top 10. Or even the top 100. Or even the top 1,000. But I do like her attitude about having a positive attitude on the subject.

So to add to her inspiring words, here are some words of wisdom from Steve Prefontaine:

Life’s battles don’t always go to the strongest or fastest man, but sooner or later the man who wins is the fellow who thinks he can.

It’s all about the unicorns

My foster daughter has this habit of saying “Guess what?” without giving any further clues or context. In the beginning, I would ask for hints or detail, but she would just demand that I guess. And there is no way I’d ever come close so I started to just make up guesses.

So when she says “Guess what?” I reply with things like:

You were on your way out to the playground at recess when this herd of pink unicorns came careening down out of the lentil fields right toward you and your friends. And just moments before they impaled you with their silvery horns, flying monkeys swooped down and picked you up with their teeth then flew you to a rainbow where you could sit safely whilst the herd passed by. Afterward, you were able to slide down the rainbow and land safely on a bed of marshmallows.

Or:

You were sleeping soundly when all of the sudden a troll with purple hair woke you with hushed tones and told you to hop on to his unicorn so that he could ride you to safety because there was a dragon outside your bedroom window who was going to kidnap you and take you to the Land of the Firebreathers where you would be forced to repair all of the broken claws and scales that the dragons got when they were fighting the evil orgs who ruled Swamp Kingdom.

And she just rolls her eyes and lets me know that the thing I was supposed to guess was that some kid at school broke their fingernail or something.

But it won’t end there. No, after she tells me what I was meant to guess, she then lets me know that, in fact, there are no pink unicorns (don’t be silly!) and that dragons don’t need someone to repair their claws and scales because (of course) they have special regeneration powers that mean they fix themselves.

Anyhow, my unicorn-based guesses are getting more creative. But they are also turning up in my adult conversations these days. Oh well. Folks already knew I was crazy, believing in unicorns fits right in with my current residency in La-La-Land.

Tearful but thankful

Well, it would seem that I wasn’t meant to have a proper Thanksgiving this year. I wished for one, and even invited family and friends to join me, but no one was able to come. So instead, I decided that I would make the trip to my homeland to share a traditional turkey dinner with my parents and one of my sisters and her family. (Though between us we’d decided that our ‘traditional’ dinner would be eaten out at a nice restaurant in town followed by desserts at my sister’s.)

Whilst I’d really wanted to host dinner this year, I was happy with the plan because it would mean that I could run in a local 5K race with my nephew on Friday and, more importantly, that I would be able to visit Paul’s grave on Saturday for what would have been his birthday.

We tried to make it, but once I finally got to I-90, the roads were just too slick for safe travel. It’s funny that the rural farm roads I’d been on for nearly 60 miles—which were covered in drifting snow so bad that you couldn’t actually see the road—was a more pleasurable experience than the freeway! So I had to make the difficult call to turn around and return home. Back home where food would need to be scrounged because we’d eaten the fresh stuff in the days before; anticipating being away for a few days.

My foster daughter seemed to handle the disappointment OK. Maybe that’s because upon returning home she instantly went out sledding with her friend; which worked well for me because I needed to be a complete sobbing mess for a while and I couldn’t do it in front of her. And I sobbed a lot after she went out to play. But thankfully I regained my composure and came up with an alternative plan for us before she returned.

When the kid arrived back home we got into our jammies and I started to prepare a feast of grilled cheese sandwiches, saltines with peanut butter, oranges, microwave popcorn, and stale peanut butter cookies for dessert. All to be enjoyed whilst curled up in front of the fire place watching Stuart Little.

But just as the pans for grilling the sandwiches were ready, there was a knock at the door. It seems the neighbours noticed my car was home and knew that meant I didn’t make it to the homeland after all. So they brought loads of food for us—apologising for not noticing sooner or they’d have had us over for a proper meal! An invitation for a post-feeding visit was extended, which we happily accepted.

So, as we sat down to our lovely meal of ham and turkey—with a big plate of desserts tucked away in the kitchen—we sat to reflect on how our miserable Thanksgiving was a day to be thankful for, indeed!

And after partaking in delicious desserts that our wonderful neighbours brought, we wandered through the snow over to their house for a visit. The kid played with the kids; I sat and shared a bottle of wine with the Mrs.; and the Mr. kept the kids in line and the fire stoked.

I’m still very sad that I didn’t make it to the homeland and suppose that it’s partly because I can’t be there to take flowers to Paul on his birthday now. But still, I am thankful today.

I am thankful that despite the bad roads I made it safely home.

I am thankful that my neighbours, whom I barely know, were so kind and thoughtful and not only shared their food but opened their home to us to share in the evening.

I am thankful to be warm and toasty in my own home as the kid sleeps soundly in her bed.

I am thankful that even when everything seems so sad and low, things always seem to work out with the grace of God.

And I am thankful that today, all the way in England, my great-nephew, Travis, was born. A Thanksgiving baby is always something to be thankful for.

I have awesome neighbours!

I have awesome neighbours!

After last night’s blizzard I decided to work from home so that I didn’t have to deal with the roads.

But when things seemed to clear up by early afternoon, I decided I’d run into town with my foster daughter because she doesn’t have proper snow gear yet. (She had to wear my boots to shovel snow this morning.)

Only, the car wouldn’t start when I went out. And I live in a town of 650 people with no shops and no services. The neighbours across the way are gone for Thanksgiving. My dad is a four-hour drive away. And I neglected to renew my AAA membership after Paul died. (Opps!)

So I called Annie, our amazing town clerk. She promised a call back in five minutes. It wasn’t even that long until she called to say that Tim was on his way. Only, I don’t know Tim. But less than five minutes pass again and there’s Tim ready to fix my car.

It took about ½ an hour to get the car going. Tim worked with bare hands in the 10°F temperatures (that’s -11°C, if you wondered) then wouldn’t take anything for his trouble.

All the while, another neighbour was busy clearing snow from around my driveway with his tractor. After Tim left, that neighbour asked if he got everything cleared OK. And I, excitedly, said yes. After all, I’d not asked for this favour, he just came by to plough for me like he has for the past two winters.

And these are all different people than the ones who’ve watched my cat whilst I’m away or kept my lawn mowed since Paul died.

Yes, these things might happen in the big city, too, but I think they’re more common in a small town. These good people and their friendly “help your neighbour” attitude will be missed when I return to Scotland. But, then, I always found people to be kind and helpful there, too.

Yay! for awesome neighbours!!

When you’re responsible for another life

When you’re responsible for another life, you have to think of that life’s needs. And sometimes, you have to put that life’s needs ahead of yours.

That is the lesson I’ve been teaching my foster daughter since day one. And the life she is responsible for is Schrodie’s.

You see, without opposable thumbs, the cat can’t feed herself (hunting for birds and mice aside). Without opposable thumbs, the cat can’t clean her litter box. And without opposable thumbs, the cat can’t clean her water bowl or re-fill it.

So those things must be done by the kid.

And those things must be done first thing in the morning before the kid feeds herself; because unlike the cat, the kid can choose to eat later.

In the beginning this was a lesson we had to discuss regularly.

I had to remind her to feed the cat: “She’s not following you around meowing just because she likes you; she’s yelling at you to feed her.”

I had to remind her to clean the water dish each morning: “How would you like it if I fed you out of dirty dishes?”

I had to remind her to wash her hands after cleaning the litter box (which she does right before fixing her own food): “Really, if you don’t, it’s almost like eating cat poop. Do you want to eat cat poop?”

But now she has the pattern down. And now she knows that I have sneaky ways of telling if she’s washed her hands. (Um, hello, why is the sink still dry?)

And on a morning like today—after having gone over the lesson of “Sleep-In Saturdays”—I heard her playing in her room, whilst I was snuggled under my duvet, when Schrodie came in to meow a hello (which was actually her way of being a tattletale).

So I shouted out: “Hey, what happens when a dependant life isn’t cared for?”

And she shouted: “I’m doing it right now!”

And I smiled as I stayed warmly under my duvet listening to the sounds of cat food being poured, litter being scooped, and water being turned on.

The cat sure does love her new care-giver. And I sure do love that I’ve not cleaned a litter box in three months.

Blagenda

WooHoo! I made a trip to the homeland this weekend to make blagenda with my folks and one of my sisters. Her kids and my foster daughter got in on the action, too.

We used an old family recipe that was brought over from Ukraine when my family emigrated/immigrated* a couple of generations ago. I don’t know just how old the recipe is, but it’s certainly a traditional dish for people of ‘Germans from Russia’ heritage.

If you’re wondering, blagenda is essentially a pumpkin turn-over or tart. It’s a basic short pastry filled with grated pumpkin then it’s baked for a bit. Growing up, we always had it as a savoury even though some families would add sugar and cinnamon to make it a sweet dish. This year, we gave the sweet-side a try and made a few with cinnamon and sugar ourselves.

We made more than 260 of the little guys in total. That’s a lot of pastry rolling and my arms are very, very sore now, having been the main pastry-roller-outer. In fact, I was so busy rolling pastry that I didn’t end up touching any of the pumpkin prior to it being placed in the pastry shells. (The task of peeling, chopping, and shredding pumpkin went to Mom, Celeste, and the kids.)

The recipe we followed is one that my Great Aunt Mary wrote down—but who knows how many times it was copied before then. If you care to give it a go, here’s a copy of the recipe for you, edited for grammar and clarity because it’s what I do!

Blagenda

Pumpkin mixture:

  • 6 cups grated pumpkin
  • ½ cup grated or chopped onion
  • 1½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper

Mix all together and let set ½ hour. It makes its own juice [NOTE: Juices should be drained before placed in pastry but save them and use them as a great soup base. Yum!]. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired.

Pastry:

  • 6 cups flour
  • 1½ cup shortening
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ cup sugar

Mix as you would a pie crust, adding milk as needed, and work well.  Roll out as you would pie crust and cut circles 3-6 inches wide. Place pumpkin mixture on half of pastry and flip the other half over to make a tart. [NOTE: For best results, use a bit of water to help seal the edges.] Bake at 350°F for about 20 minutes or until a nice golden brown. [NOTE: We baked for about 25 minutes – the size of your tarts will impact cooking time.]

[Side note: I was asked to give proper UK measurements, too, but haven’t got the math done yet. I will try to update later in the week but if you really can’t wait, US to UK measurements can be found here: US cups to UK weights (dry ingredients) and US to UK liquid conversions.]

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And—big surprise!—here are a couple of videos of the process for your enjoyment. (The second one is the best!)

[Another side note: After posting a story and video about making pickles, a friend gave me a bit of grief for not having demonstrated the proper technique for washing hands. I’m not going to do that now, either, but will say that you really must wash your hands before (and after) handling food. If you don’t know the proper technique, you can Google it.]

 

* Emigrate and immigrate have two different but similar meanings, if you didn’t know. Someone emigrates from a location and immigrates to a location. So, to use the terms in sentences: My maternal and paternal ancestors emigrated from Ukraine a couple of generations ago. And: My hope is to immigrate to Scotland in the next year.

Sicky

The day started out OK. I was a bit tired and run-down feeling, but it’s Monday and it was a pretty busy weekend so it wasn’t too surprising to be a bit blah feeling. What was surprising is that a few minutes into an 11 o’clock meeting I started to feel lightheaded and dizzy. My arms and legs felt a bit weak and tingly and I could feel this fuzzy haze coming over me. I went from freezing cold to boiling hot in a matter of moments. And things seemed to be getting dark.

Then I was fine.

Then it started again.

I excused myself from the meeting out of fear that I would pass out and was immediately followed out by another woman who didn’t think that my Casper-complexion was right. So it was off to the doctor’s office for me.

And then it was home for me. Which was a carry-on because I live nearly 30 miles outside of town in the middle of BFE with no public transport which meant that someone had to drive me home—and someone else had to follow to get my driver back to town. My driver and my driver’s driver brought me in, made me soup, got me situated then left me to sleep under a cuddly blanket on the couch with the cat (after, of course, I cranked the heat and put on my PJs).

Of course, the kid needed to get home, too. But thankfully my neighbour from over the road works in town and was able to pick up the kid on my behalf.

By the time the kid arrived home I was awake again and had just enough energy to make her favourite dinner—homemade split pea soup from the freezer. And thankfully at 11-years-old, she’s old enough to understand that I’m feeling a bit blah and could sort herself out for a shower. (She must be a bit beat, too, because she went straight to bed when told to do so!)

I have to admit that it’s all made me miss Paul so very much because if he was here he’d have come to town and picked me up and taken care of me and fussed all over me and called me a ‘poor wee scone’ and he’d have cooked for me and put me to bed and then in the morning he’d have fussed over me some more. (How’s that for a run-on sentence!?) But, it’s nice to know that between my co-workers and my neighbours there are people to take care of me if I get sick. Which isn’t quite the same as having Paul here, but it’s something at least.

Anyhow, I’m feeling a bit weak still but am hoping that a night’s sleep will help. In the mean time, I’ve been given a ‘just in case’ dose of antibiotics and will wait for blood tests to be back tomorrow. I’m sure it’s nothing serious, but I’d sure like to be back to my brand of normal soon!

Boo!

A few weeks ago I wrote of my apprehension about Halloween’s approach and wondered how I would manage to get through what was once a favoured holiday. And then it dawned on me that I would manage by inviting the kid’s mom to come and participate in the day with us. I’d known that there would come a time when we’d invite her over for dinner and it just seemed to me that this could be a solution for everyone—me because I wasn’t emotionally prepared to take the kid trick-or-treating and them because mom-and-daughter time is awesome!

After a lazy sleep in, the kid and I got up and started to get ready for our company. It was a bit hard to motivate the kid to clean her room, but once she realized that she couldn’t put on her costume until her chores were done, the cleaning went a lot faster. And as she cleaned, I started to get everything ready for a Halloween feast. Creepy-named foods and all!

When 3 o’clock came around, the kid anxiously waited outside for her mom and godfather, who’d volunteered to do the driving. She then gave them the grand tour of the house before we all sat down to visit before dinner.

Just as we finished eating, the first group of trick-or-treaters knocked on the door. Which prompted the kid to put on her mask, grab her sword, and rush for the door to partake in the night’s begging activities—reminding her mom and godfather to remain in the car when she went up to houses. (This is a standard demand from my understanding—though I still can’t believe that it’s become the ‘norm’ for kids to be driven around trick-or-treating!)

When the kid returned her bag was filled to the brim with candy—three and a half pounds’ worth! She even got a couple of full-sized candy treats, glow-in-the-dark stick thingies, and an awesome plastic cup. The kid’s evening ended with a yummy slice of Crazy Cake before our guests departed and I’m now relaxing on the couch where I’ll wait a bit longer for the last of the kids who are still out enjoying All Hallows’ Eve…

Sadly, I wasn’t able to muster the same enthusiasm I once had for the holiday, but I think I managed to fake it well enough so that others couldn’t tell. Heck, I even managed to squeeze in a Halloween corn maze and a fun pumpkin-making activity!

And on the whole, this year was easier than last year so I have hope that one day I will enjoy the holidays with as much excitement as I once did. Until then, I’ll keep faking it because it seems to work!

Oh, and if you wondered, on the menu was:

  • Devilled eyeballs (Devilled eggs)
  • Dragon scales and monster mucus (Chips and dip)
  • Lizard brains (Cherry tomatoes)
  • Bloody guts served over a bed of worms (Spaghetti with meat sauce)
  • Witches’ fingers (Cooked carrot sticks)
  • Wilted brains (Salad)
  • Dragon blood (Cranberry juice)
  • Graveyard dirt (Crazy cake)

It was yummy! Don’t you wish you could have joined us?

Hooked

I work full time. I parent an 11-year-old foster kid. I have a house that requires my care and attention. I have applications to complete for entrance to a postgraduate program. I have this amazing blog to keep up with. And I have the full-time occupation of being completely awesome. (And there are loads of other tasks and responsibilities I’ve not listed, like the chore of being extremely modest all the time…)

Oh, and I have a queen-sized afghan and a baby blanket that I’m busy crocheting.

So, you’d think that I’d recognize that I have enough on my plate, right?

Wrong!

On a trip to the big city yesterday I purchased yarn for two new projects. Both of which I need to finish by Christmas. One is a purple scarf (started last night) and the other is a twin-sized purple and green ripple afghan. I know it seems silly, but the kid just loves the queen-sized afghan I’m working on and has also admired my hand-crocheted scarves.

Well, I guess I’m just a sucker because now I’m busy making Christmas pressies for the kid after she goes to bed. I hope she likes them. I really, really hope she does! (And don’t worry, she’ll get proper, store-bought rubbish, too!)

Copy bird

In the evenings, you will quite often find me and the kid in the living room not talking*: Her on the love seat reading or drawing; me on the couch crocheting, blogging, or—most recently—sketching and drawing. And you can bet that at some point she will come over and start snooping at what I’m doing with great curiosity.

After she goes to bed, I will sit and continue my evening’s project for a couple of hours and by the time I wake up the next morning, I’ve almost forgotten what I was working on the night before. But not the kid. No, the kid will ask several times as we’re getting ready to leave the house if she can see what I’ve been working on. And when she finally gets to (after, of course, she gets ready for school) she is full of enthusiasm for what is, at best, mediocrity at its most average.

I’m always so pleased that she enjoys my creative outputs, but it never truly dawned on me how much impact I have on her until this weekend. As I sat working on my silliness coursework she came and looked over my shoulder and commented with awe at my water painting before asking if she could break out her watercolours and do some painting of her own.

To the left is my painting. To the right is the kid’s.

  

I am flattered and humbled. And a little afraid to think that there is another child who’s life is being impacted by me. (I think I do OK. I’ve yet to completely screw up any of my nieces and nephews at least…)

* It sounds like we just ignore each other, but we don’t. By this time, we’ve endured a 30-mile drive from town home where we chat, chat, chat. Then we enjoy a nice, home-cooked dinner at the table where we chat, chat, chat some more. Then, we chat when she goes to bed, right before our prayers. So we talk. Just not at this point in the evening.

Papier-mâché pumpkins; Part 2

Yay! One week later and our fabulous papier-mâché pumpkins are done! This was a fun and inexpensive project and requires absolutely no talent what-so-ever. Plus, most of the supplies are probably things you already have in your home which makes it even easier. (Supply list below.)

The kid ran the camera for most of the project, including the video segments, so check out the step-by-step photo gallery to see 1) how you can make your own pumpkins and 2) what an amazing talent the kid has with a camera.

(In the photo: My pumpkin is on the left; the kid’s is on the right. And that’s Schrodie sniffin’ around.)

Here’s another video for your enjoyment. And if you missed the first set of videos you can check them out here or visit my YouTube channel. Yay!

Supply list for two pumpkins:

  • Newspaper
  • Cardboard
  • 2 cereal boxes (or similar weight material)
  • 1 paper towel cardboard roll thingy
  • Stapler and staples
  • Duct tape
  • Masking tape
  • Flour
  • Water
  • Paint
  • Paint brush
  • A fun CD of your choosing
  • A fun attitude! (This can be faked to start out if needed and at some point in the project, it will become genuine!)

Papier-mâché pumpkins; Part 1

Yay! We’ve been busy making papier-mâché pumpkins for two days now. I’m using a new technique (no balloons for this gal!) and it seems to be working out pretty well. I had to buy some orange paint, but other than that everything is either recycled materials or general household junk (staples, duct tape, flour, etc) which is pretty cool!

The kid is running the camera for this project (mostly) and has decided that we should share the videos of our pumpkins in progress right away, instead of waiting for the whole thing to be done.

So, here are some fun little videos for you. Check back next week for step-by-step photos of the whole project so that you can make your very own Papier-mâché pumpkin! [[UPDATE: See the photo gallery here!]]

Making the goop:

Pumpkin building:

The kid’s turn:

Donald, where’s yer troosers?

I woke up yesterday morning with “Caledonia” going through my head so decided to grab my “The Best Scottish Album in the World…Ever” CD to listen to on the 30-minute drive to town. The kid wasn’t too keen on the departure from our normal car music—the local country western station—so I played a song I thought she’d like (after listening to Caledonia twice, of course).

In the rear view mirror I could see her struggling with the lyrics of the song I chose for her, so I turned off the music to explain that the girls were asking Donald where his trousers were because he was wearing, essentially, a skirt. Once she realized what the song was about, she asked me to please turn the music back on.

Last night when the kid asked if we could listen to “that Scottish CD” I didn’t think anything of it—but had to say no since it was in the car still. After all, it is a regular occurrence for her to ask me to play whatever the last music I had on was.

Then this morning I started the car and she instantly asked if we could listen to “song 16”. And we did. A few times. With her singing along and laughing.

On the drive home this evening it was more of the same.

She is now in her room singing it and came out a moment ago to ask if I thought she had a good Scottish accent (which she sings the song in). And, she is just two points away from earning enough for an MP3 player so she’s asked that “Donald, Where’s Yer Troosers” go on the device along with a handful of others from the CDs such as “500 Miles” and “Shang-a-Lang”.

Yes, folks, I am influencing the musical tastes of yet another child. Also on the list: I introduced my eldest sister’s daughters to disco (specifically the Village People) several years ago. Her husband is still mad at me for that. I’ve also introduced my 13-year-old niece to Billy Bragg and Aztec Camera. Her mom is OK with that, though I don’t think she’s happy that Morrissey has managed to make his way onto her iPod, too. (Oops!)

Hope you have a musical Friday!

Fired!

A week and a half ago the kid and I went to Wild @ Art to paint ceramics but we had to leave the painted pieces behind so that they could be put in the kiln and fired. And today I went to pick them up.

The kid chose to paint a dragon. She wanted to paint one that was much more detailed and ornate, but it cost several pretty pennies and I felt that she needed something a bit simpler as this was her first attempt at painting ceramics. I think she was happy with that choice when she realized just how long it was taking to paint the simple one! In fact, she mentioned at one point afterward that she should have painted the very basic horse for her first project!

This was my second attempt at ceramics painting (as a grown-up) but, still, I chose something practical and simple. My little bowl was painted knowing that its sole purpose would be to hold candy. Because I like candy. I’m a bit disappointed in myself because I wasn’t able to stop painting so it looks a bit like an Easter egg now. Next time, I will remember that simple is good, too. In the mean time, I have filled my pretty bowl with Bassett’s Liquorice Allsorts. Of course, by the time you read this the bowl will be empty because I do love my Liquorice Allsorts!

[Here’s more information about my first grown-up attempt, if you’re interested.]

Scarily unexcited

Halloween is less than four weeks away and I am anything but excited about it. In fact, there is this niggling feeling of apprehension about what once was a favorite holiday. If I had my way, the day wouldn’t happen; the kid wouldn’t trick-or-treat and I would turn off the house lights so that no one came to the house for treats, either. Yes, I know how sad that all sounds.

Two years ago I was giddy with excitement. I was busy planning and creating costumes for Paul and my niece. I was decorating the house and the yard. I was buying candy. I was planning a ‘scary’ dinner menu of witches’ fingers, bloody eyeballs, mummy brains, and (of course) bloody Marys to wash it all down.

Two years ago Paul and I spoke excitedly about the following year and about how he would get to take the kids we planned to adopt trick-or-treating whilst I stayed home to hand out candy to kids coming to the house. We were both excited about that future.

But instead of the plans Paul and I had for last year, I turned off the lights and drove to Spokane to spend Halloween with my aunt and her friends who were all going out to dinner. The only way I knew it was Halloween was that everyone (including me) was dressed up. I wasn’t excited about Halloween, but I did enjoy it for what it was—a night away from reality.

This year, I just can’t get excited.  I’m trying to, really I am. But I can’t. So I’m trying to fake it. I’m trying to pretend that I’m excited about costumes. I’m trying to pretend that I’m excited about decorating the house. I’m trying to pretend that I’m excited about trick-or-treating. And I’m trying to pretend that I’m OK with doing all of this without Paul. I’m trying to pretend that I don’t mind living this new future that is so very different than my old future.

I’m afraid that if this is how I feel for something as simple as Halloween that it will be even harder when Thanksgiving and Christmas roll around. I’m afraid that my sorrow will ruin the holidays for the kid, who deserves a happy and cheerful holiday season. I’m afraid that I may never really enjoy the holidays again—that I’ll have to slap on a fake smile and pretend for the rest of my life.

In an effort to not worry about too much at once, and because Paul always said you have to finish one holiday before planning for the next, I will hold off on other holiday stresses until after the ghouls and goblins have finished begging for candy.

In an effort to keep faking it, I am planning a way-fun papier-mâché pumpkin-making project with the kid and am even thinking about possible costumes for me. And if all else fails, I will just keep reminding myself that I get to eat all the left-over Halloween candy.

I just hope that I’m able to fake it well enough so that the kid doesn’t know its all smoke and mirrors…

Crafty chick

I’d like to tell you that I’m completely over my blue mood, but that would be a lie. I have, however, been having an enjoyable weekend despite it.

My original plan for yesterday was to have a relaxing afternoon at the spa, but since the kid’s plans got cancelled, so did mine. So instead, the two of us went into town to pick up some craft supplies and to paint some ceramics at Wild @ Art. We ended up spending most of the day out-and-about but it was quite enjoyable. In the evening, we both worked on our silliness worksheets and after she went to bed I re-learned how to use watercolor paints.

Today we were going to spend some time doing some crafts together, but instead she abandoned me to go play with her friend. Which is cool because 1) kids should spend time playing with other kids and 2) I got some time alone after all!

So, instead, I’ve spent the morning coloring silly little picture frames and baking banana bread. Soon I will start making lunch (fried egg sandwiches, anyone?) then a big pot of split pea soup to re-stock the freezer.

The best part about getting all of this done so early in the day? There’s still plenty of time for an EastEnders omnibus and maybe I can even get started on my new Ian Rankin novel. Oh… and maybe I can even sneak a nice, long soak in the tub into the day somewhere. Yay!

Thanking the anonymous

When I arrived home from England last week there was a happy surprise waiting for me in the post. It was a simple gesture: A short note and some cash directing me to do something nice for myself as a way of ‘paying forward’ the loving reach of a foster mom a couple of generations ago.

Since opening my home to my lovely foster daughter a little over a month ago, I have experienced much generosity from the fostering community. Volunteer groups called to see if we needed school supplies or new clothes. Others have offered to care for the kid for a few hours here-and-there so that I can have some much-needed time out. Still others have offered to have ‘baby showers’ of sorts to make sure that the kid has everything she needs*.

I’ve had countless people let me know that they are praying for us and I am continually amazed at the care and concern shown by the kid’s social worker and school administrators. Certainly, at every corner along this journey there is help and support available to ensure she is well. It’s extremely heart-warming.

So why has this gift touched me so much?

Well, I suppose because it’s not about the kid, but about me and the difference that I am making. It’s about acknowledging all of the successful adults in our society who were once foster children themselves—and whose lives were positively impacted by the caring reach of a stranger.

My first thought was to bank the gift because who has time to do something nice for themselves when they’re caring for an 11-year-old on their own? But that would have gone against the spirit of the gift and I’d have felt guilty.

But as luck would have it, the kid has plans for a few hours on Saturday which means I am on my own; free to do as I please. And what I please is to go and get a massage—a lovely, relaxing, hour-long massage.

Lucky for the kid, there’s enough money left for me to stop off at the craft store to get some art supplies for a fun art project for the two of us to do on Sunday afternoon. I’m sure that the giver of such a wonderful gift would allow for me to spend some of it for fun with the kid.

And so, dear anonymous friend (if you’re reading this), thank you from the bottom of my heart. Not just for the gift but for taking the time to thank me for my small role in this amazing child’s life in such a lovely way. Knowing that there are people out there who are so kind and supportive of me really is an enormous gift of its own.

How beautiful a day can be when kindness touches it!
~ George Elliston

* The kid has everything she needs and more! And seriously, if we were the same size I would totally be borrowing from her way-awesome wardrobe!

God’s Eyes

On the drive home from the airport Friday evening, I started to think about Ojo de Dios (God’s Eyes). I don’t know what brought the thought to mind, but I’m sure it was a winding road of completely unrelated subjects. (A regular journey in my crazy little mind.)

By the time I got into town, I realized that I really wanted to make a God’s Eye. And luckily, I had almost all of the supplies needed: Yarn, scissors, and hands. Of course, I was missing the ever-important supply of popsicle sticks. So I needed to travel to the next town to purchase a box of popsicles.

Sadly, the kid managed to lose all privileges for the whole of the weekend which meant that she couldn’t help with the chore of excavating the sticks from their frozen prisons. Which meant that I needed to eat two popsicles after she went to bed on both Friday and Saturday nights* so that I had the required four popsicle sticks for today’s crafting time.

After the kid was finished with her chores (her room is amazingly clean now!), I got dinner started (homemade beef stew), we had lunch, and I did my chores (working on my personal statement for graduate school), we sat on the couch together to make some God’s Eyes. Of course, this was after I spent some time online re-learning how to make them since I’ve not done it since I was the kid’s age! (Wow! That’s 25 years ago!)

If you’re wondering, this is all a part of my life goal to be blissfully happy. Doing these simple little things is enjoyable and I’m finding that the more crafty stuff I do, the more I seem to smile, which is also why I’ve just signed up for the Sketchbook Project. Look for more on that soon! And don’t forget to check out my coursework from my online class The Art of Silliness2, too!

* She knew this was happening and was disappointed but also knows why and accepted this fact with very little argument. She managed an entire weekend of removed privileges along with extra chores with very little argument as part of our “every action (or non-action) has a consequence” lesson plan. I’m a mean foster mommy, yet she’s an amazing kid despite it!

Being silly

Right, I promised a more cheerful post the other day and I’m pleased to say that I don’t even have to be fake cheerful! You see, a few weeks ago my friend in Scotland sent me a link for an online art course called The Art of Silliness2 and yesterday was the first day of instruction. Yay!

I sat on the couch last night to start working on my warm-up exercise (a short story) and the day’s first proper assignment. My foster daughter is often interested in what I’m writing and drawing in the evenings and I’m (almost) always happy to show her. When she asked about last night’s projects I told her about the silliness class and she very plainly let me know that I am already the silliest person she knows and that she didn’t think I needed a class to learn how to be silly.

Ah, bless…

Anyhow, I am looking forward to spending the next month being that little bit more silly than normal. I promise not to bore you with all of my course work* via daily posts, but I will scan them as I go and include them on my “Silly Page” linked at the top of Just Frances.

* To be clear: This isn’t to say I won’t share some of my assignments, it just means I won’t blog about all of them.

The rising cost of teeth

We were sitting at the table eating dinner when out of the blue the kid asked what would happen if she lost a tooth when she was at my house. She was concerned that the Tooth Fairy wouldn’t know how to find her. I explained that, as part of the process with her social worker, the Tooth Fairy was informed of her change of address – as were the Easter Bunny, Santa, et cetera.

This prompted a question to the kid about how much the Tooth Fairy leaves her. The kid quickly explained that she would always leave her tooth under her pillow and when she woke in the morning there was $5 or $10 in place of the tooth.

$5 or $10 for a tooth?! You’ve got to be kidding me!

All of the sudden I found myself telling the kid that, in this volatile global economic environment, the Tooth Fairy was likely to start paying less for teeth; after all, the market wouldn’t be able to bear the higher cost of teeth for long. (The fact that the kid pointed out not one but four loose teeth made this statement even more vital.)

I also had to inform the kid that because we lived in an extremely rural area off the main roads, we needed to make it easier for the Tooth Fairy to get in and out of the house quickly. So, any lost teeth would need to be placed in a glass of water on the dining room table for the fairy to find*. That way, the Tooth Fairy can come in, grab the tooth, leave some money and skedaddle. Having to sneak in and carefully remove the tooth from under a pillow is very time-consuming, you know.

When I was a kid we got a quarter. Yep, two-bits, that was it; maybe more on a rare occasion that I’ve forgotten about. Of course, when I was a kid a Jolly Rancher stick was only 10¢ and a candy bar was about a quarter. I haven’t seen Jolly Rancher sticks in ages (do they still make them?) and candy bars are nearly a buck these days. So, I can see how a tooth would also claim a higher price tag.

But how much is a tooth worth?

A quick search online gave answers ranging from a letter telling the kid how proud the Tooth Fairy was that the tooth was in such great condition (lame!) to $20 or a video game (outrageous!). So, I did what people do in this age of social media: I asked my friends on Facebook.

Luckily, it seems that most of the responses I got were within a $2 to $5 range – leaning more heavily toward $2.

Anyhow, that first conversation with the kid was about four weeks ago – and she finally lost the tooth the other day whilst I was in England. She told the family she was staying with that she would take the tooth back with her because she’d rather the Tooth Fairy come to my house. (How sweet.)

So, when we got up this morning the kid went to see what the Tooth Fairy left. And wouldn’t you know it? $2 was at the bottom of the glass ($1 in quarters and a Sacajawea dollar). There was also a ‘scratch and sniff’ tooth brush and a pack of fun flossers left behind. I guess that might have been a hint to the kid…

Now, about the rest of those loose teeth. Guess I’ll have to make sure the Tooth Fairy is prepared for them, too!

* I don’t know why, but we always left our teeth in a glass of water. Some kids left their teeth under their pillows. Others just on the kitchen table. Feel free to tell me how things go down in your home!

Leavin’ on a jet plane

I’m on my way to England and had to leave my lovely foster daughter behind for the week. We discussed my trip ahead of time and she had a million questions – mostly about what it would be like to travel on a plane.

She asked that I post pictures from the plane, so this photo-heavy post is for her.

And, thanks to GoGo In-Flight Internet, I’m posting these photos from an altitude of 10,000+. Yay!

View from the window before take-off

View from the window somewhere between Spokane and Phoenix

View from inside the first plane (Spokane to Phoenix)

View from inside the second plane (Phoenix to Philadelphia)

I had hoped to take a photo of my airplane meal, but they didn’t have any low-sodium options left by the time they got to me at the back of the plane. Which means Just Frances is Just Starving. (Yeah, this is what happens when you wake up at 3:00 a.m. I MUST find food in Philly. Cheese steak, maybe?)

OK, that’s me off to play on the Internet ON THE PLANE some more. Ain’t technology grand?

Gone fishin’

Back in July I was inspired by fish. It started as a general rambling, then turned to an actual plan for fishing on Labor Day Weekend. It was going to be great! Some friends from high school and I were all going to meet at our childhood fishin’ ponds and re-live our glory days. Soon, the fishing expedition grew as my friends planned to bring their kids. So I decided to bring my niece and nephew. And it was going to be fun.

Then I took a foster care placement and wondered if a fishing trip would still work. And I decided it would. So she was going to come, too. Then my friends all cancelled! So instead of being a fishing trip to remember my childhood, it became a fishing trip to build memories in the present-day childhoods of three amazing kids. (And memories for me and whilst I’m not a kid, I am pretty childish sometimes.)

Anyhow, we had a blast. Three fish were caught; none big enough for eating. One got tossed back; two became bait.

I forgot how fun fishing was. I may have to go again before all my new tackle rusts…

And look! Fun things for you!

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Oh, and be sure check out the little video my niece made below. I didn’t realize what she was doing at first, but it’s pretty good so I’m sharing it with you!

Hope you’ve all had a great Labor Day Weekend.

Lessons of a new foster mommy; Part 1

It’s been nearly three weeks since the kid arrived and there’ve been loads of little lessons learned.

Here’s today’s lesson:
When you have a new foster placement, check through everything to ensure that there are not items that need to be returned to others.

When she arrived we unpacked her belongings together. But at 11 years old, I gave the little dear a bit more responsibility for putting her stuff away. I went through the bags and boxes then piled like stuff together and had her arrange her room. (She did a wonderful job.) I was pleased to see that she had so many books, despite the fact that they were anime. But reading is reading. (Well, not really but she also reads proper books, so I’m not going to cringe over the comic obsession.)

Anyhow… It wasn’t until Tuesday night that I really went through her books. Which is when I noticed that a large portion of them were from the public library. And they were overdue. Several months overdue.  

Over lunch today, I popped into the library to return the books and learned that there had also been several DVDs checked out at the same time – all but one of which had been returned, but there were overdue fines on them as well as a charge for the lost DVD. Add that to the overdue fees for the stack of books I returned and the total monetary damage is $190. OUCH!

I must say that I’m a bit disappointed that the books were not returned by the caregiver who authorized her to check them out, but not knowing the full story, I have to imagine that 1) said caregiver didn’t know the books were checked out or 2) said caregiver let the next caregiver or social worker know that the books were due at a certain time and that information got lost in the chaos/excitement of a move.

But, ultimately, it was my responsibility to check her books when she first arrived in my home. (That said, the fines would have been about the same even if I returned the books the day after the kid arrived.) And, of course, it was her responsibility to return items borrowed from the library in the first instance.

Lesson learned. Very expensive lesson learned*.

Overdues
Shel Silverstein

What do I do?
What do I do?
This library book is 42
Years overdue.
I admit that it’s mine
But I can’t pay the fine–
Should I turn it in
Or hide it again?
What do I do?
What do I do?

* In fairness to the expensive lesson, they’ve reduced the fees and fines to about $100 and I might be able to replace the DVD on my own which will take that charge alone from $60 to whatever the cost of the DVD is on Amazon.com. [Fine reduction updated from $80 to $100 because I did the math wrong the first time. Big surprise!]

Back to school

Way-hey! Tomorrow is the first day of school. I’m totally excited! I’ve got my backpack packed, my pencils sharpened, my way-awesome binder loaded with college-ruled paper, and my protractor tucked neatly away in a little pouch.

I can almost smell the construction paper and paste wafting through the halls. I can almost taste the overly-processed, barely recognizable as food, lunch waiting for me in the cafeteria. I can almost hear the laughter of happy children on the playground…

Oh, wait. It’s not me who’s going to school tomorrow. It’s the kid. Darn!

Yep, the kid starts 6th grade in the morning. Middle school. Wow. It seems like less than two weeks ago that she came into my life…

Oh, wait. It was less than two weeks ago!

So, for those wondering how I’m getting on with the kid – we’re getting on quite well. I think that she’s both excited and nervous about starting middle school tomorrow. She totally loves her awesome new backpack. It’s purple and it has a butterfly. Cool. (I must admit to liking the butterfly motif myself, but I’d rather it in green.)

For those wondering about my own back-to-school plans – they are still in process. I can’t send off my applications for autumn 2011 until after the 2010 school year begins, but I am working on them now. I promise. My goal is to have everything ready for my applications before the end of September. I promise. Really.

Happy back-to-school season to all!!

Bug removal

I removed a large grasshopper from the house today using Paul’s special bug-removal jar. The old peanut butter jar took on the duty of bug receptacle the summer we got married. It moved with us from Seattle to our apartment on the Palouse, then later it moved with us into our new house.

Paul loved his peanut butter jar bug catcher so much that I let him be the official bug (and spider) remover. We were not of the ‘kill it’ mindset and instead released critters into the wild – or at least into the garden out front.

Now, it’s not that I’m queasy and squeamish when it comes to bugs. For goodness’ sake – I was a Tomboy through-and-through growing up. I even had a ‘bug circus’ with Larry from across the way when I was a kid. It was just that Paul enjoyed the chase. He was the man of the house and, therefore, the hunter.

Since Paul died, I suppose I’ve just not noticed – or just ignored – crawly things in the house. Don’t get me wrong, the house isn’t full of bugs. It’s just the odd spider or cricket that sneaks through the door. Of course, I must admit that I’ve allowed Schrodie to play with them on occasion – an act that may well have horrified Paul! But I chalked it up to animals being animals, and it was therefore acceptable.

Anyhow… For the first time since Paul died – no, for the first time ever – I’ve found myself using the peanut butter jar bug catcher. It seems that the kid wasn’t too keen on a large grasshopper taking up residence in her room and the cat wasn’t feeling snacky. So out came the jar.

I’m not sad by this, but I can’t help but imagine the practiced skill Paul would have used if he was here. I never thought I’d say it, but I wish I had a big strong boy to take bugs out of the house for me. (OK, not just any boy, but Paul.)

Great-grandma’s pickles

Yay! Pickle-making weekend has finally arrived. And just in time, as I was out of pickles.

My folks arrived Friday night with freshly-picked cucumbers from Imperial’s Garden outside of Wapato. They also brought with them my 13-year-old niece and 11-year-old nephew. (A couple of hours later, the kids’ mom arrived with beer for me from her man, JohnnyO, who knows I like good beer. That deserves an extra yay*!)

On Saturday, my nephew and I woke up early for go for a morning run through the wheat fields as part of our training for our 10k race that takes place on 10-10-10. We’d expected to come home to the smells of breakfast cooking, but the rest of the house was still sleeping! When they (finally) woke, we had a big breakfast to fuel us for a long day of pickle production.

My family’s dill pickles are the best! We use my (maternal) great-grandma’s recipe – with a couple of minor tweaks because of modern-day USDA guidelines. Despite the government’s intrusion**, they’re fantastic pickles!

My niece and foster daughter helped a bit with sorting cucumbers in the beginning, but spent most of the day hiding in the kid’s room playing. My nephew, however, spent the entire day helping make pickles with an amazing amount of enthusiasm! To reward him for his hard work, he will get to taste the first pickle when they’re ready. To remind the girls that today was a team effort, they did all the dishes whilst the rest of us relaxed in the living room. (This reminder didn’t sit well with the dish-doers!)

I know you wish you were here with us for this exciting pickle-making weekend, so I come bearing fun things for you! Yes! Another YouTube video, a photo gallery, and a recipe! Wow! Totally awesome!

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Want to make your own pickles? Here’s the recipe***:

Mom’s Dill Pickles
(But really, they’re my great-grandma’s)

Put 1 quart cider vinegar, 1 quart water, and ½ cup pickling salt together in a non-reactive**** saucepan and boil for a few minutes. Then pour the mixture over small cucumbers which are packed tightly into jars along with garlic, peppers, and fresh dill. (Ratios to your taste.) Process in water bath for 15 minutes.

Want to try one of the totally awesome pickles that I made? Well, unless you’re a close friend or family member with plans to visit me in the next wee while, you probably can’t. Sorry about that!

Oh! And how about a little lesson, too!?

* I haven’t decided if the extra yay was for the beer or my sister’s arrival.
** We are not bound by these guidelines, but if we want to enter things in the county fair, they must be made to USDA standards. Oh, and it’s meant to be safer.
*** Ratios of water/vinegar have been changed from the original to be in line with what we made. Dad also points out that some of the reasoning for this is that ‘in the olden days’ vinegar was more acidic that it is today.
**** Non-reactive saucepans are a stainless steel, chip-free enamelware pan, or glass pans.

Having a Ball (and a Martini)

It’s pickle season. That means that when I come home from work tomorrow the house will be full of people and pickle making supplies.

Mmmm… Grandma’s pickles. It’s a little piece of sodium-laden heaven in every crunch bite!

I’ve washed my canning jars (wide-mouth Balls, because that’s the best for pickles) and more jars will be arriving tomorrow along with freshly-picked pickling cucumbers.

The kid is excited about making pickles. She’s also excited that my 11-year-old nephew and 13-year-old niece are joining in on the pickle preparations. She talks about the niece and nephew – whom she’s yet to meet – as if they are her best friends. Exciting!

So, pickle preparations are done for the evening; which means it’s time to take the advice of the best parenting author I’ve ever read: Christie Mellor. Yes, she’s all about parents being number one and, more importantly, parents taking time to enjoy the grown-up pleasures of a Martini. (Her “Three-Martini” look on parenting was one that Paul and I agreed with. Too bad we didn’t get the chance to put the theory into action!)

 

 

Plus one

I’ve been Just Frances + One for a couple of days. It’s scary. It’s weird. It’s scary. It’s fun. And did I mention it’s scary?

You may know that Paul and I were licenced foster care providers as part of our plan to adopt children from the foster care system, even though we didn’t take short-term foster care placements as a general rule. We were, in fact, looking forward to adopting a couple of kids just before he died. In my grief, however, I wasn’t emotionally prepared to take on single motherhood. And I didn’t think it would be fair for children hoping for (and in need of) an active and happy mom and dad to be thrust upon a grieving widow. No, that wouldn’t have been fair to any of us!

So I was left wondering what I would do. Would I abandon my foster care licence? Would I continue with plans to adopt down the road? Would I foster children short-term? I didn’t know. Sometimes I think I still don’t know!

Actually, I think I was on the road to knowing. You see, I always knew that my life would include children. I just didn’t know when or how. And whilst long before meeting Paul I thought about adopting and being a single mom, I never dreamed there would be a time that I was caring for children as a grieving widow! So, I’d decided a few weeks ago that I needed to think of me first. Of my desire for my master’s degree. I decided that I would continue with my application plans for fall 2011 admission and play the rest by ear. If I was accepted, then I would know that school was the right path for right now. If I was denied, I would take it as a sign that foster parenting was the right path for right now.

When I got to the office last Monday, I made a note to call my care licenser to let her know that I wanted to retain my license, but needed more time to figure out my path before I considered a placement. But before I could call her, a social worker called me to tell me about a young girl who needed a home for a while.

It seemed to me that I could actually help this child. And maybe, just maybe, she could help me, too. It’s turned my world sideways, which is an improvement on the upside-down orientation that it’s been for more than a year. The world looks a bit different from this angle, but as Paul always said: Different doesn’t always mean better or worse; sometimes different is just different.

I don’t know how long this amazing child will be with me, but I’m certain that we will make lasting impressions on each others lives in the time we’re together. We bonded over cake-baking yesterday and toe-nail painting today. She arrived with a couple of “Learn French” CDs, so I figured that I can help her learn and maybe it will help me remember the two years’ of French I took in high school.

I’m still planning to start my studies in the fall – assuming there’s a school that will have me – but in between now and then, I’m going to be the positive light in a child’s life. And she’ll be a positive light in mine.

And there you have it. I’m responsible for the life of a child for the next [who knows how long]. Scary. Exciting. Scary. Enriching. Scary…

(I know! Can you believe that someone gave me a kid to care for? I mean, I’m totally insane and I can barely take care of myself! But then, maybe it takes a bit of madness to deal with the ins-and-outs of the foster care system!)

Crazy, crazy, crazy

I made a Crazy Cake today. It just seemed fitting since I’m entering into a whole new realm of personal insanity these days.

Wanna make your own? Here’s the recipe! (And – yay! – it’s vegan for those of you who care about those things!)

Crazy Cake

3 cups plain flour
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda (UK: bicarbonate of soda)
3/4 cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons white vinegar
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups cold water
(US to UK measurements can be found here: US cups to UK weights (dry ingredients) and US to UK liquid conversions.)

  • Sift flour, salt, baking soda, and cocoa together in ungreased
    9×13 cake pan
  • Make three wells or ditches in the dry mixture
  • Pour vegetable oil in the first, vinegar in the second, and vanilla
    in the third
  • Pour cold water all over and stir well with a fork
  • Bake at 350ºF (175ºC) for 30-40 minutes or until tooth pick
    inserted in the middle comes out clean
  • Use frosting or powdered sugar (UK: icing sugar) for topping (I use sugar)

Inspirations; Part 3

I’ve done a lot of praying this past week in the hopes of finding the strength, courage, and inspiration I need to accept a challenge facing my already fragile world. My fears are great and my confidence is weak but I have faith. And my faith will see my through.

The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
~Psalm 27:1

When I am afraid, I will trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can mortal man do to me?
~Psalm 56:3-4 

He gives power to the weak; and to those who have no might He increases strength.
~Isaiah 40:29

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
~Isaiah 41:10

For I am the LORD, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you: Do not fear; I will help you.
~Isaiah 41:13 

I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
~Philippians 4:13

Running commentary

When I run I think. Even when I’m listening to my iPod, my mind is racing through one thought after another. It jumps from here to there with silly randomness. I can’t control it; I’ve tried. But I suppose that it does tell a lot about the sorts of things that weigh on my mind, because often the things that I think about when I’m running are not the things I would think about if I were told to sit down and think.

I don’t want to scare anyone away. And worse, I don’t want anyone to think I’ve finally cracked and it’s time for a padded cell. But I’m going to share some of the random thoughts that pop into my head when I’m running.

  • OK Frances! You’ve got four miles to run today and you’re going to do it! Let’s go!
  • Hey, the rec center is pretty nice when it’s empty!
  • I should have done this yesterday when I was out. Then I could have just vegged out on the couch today.
  • I have to remember to re-wash the towels when I get home. Stupid rain storm! I guess it’s my fault for not bringing them in off the line last night. But still. Stupid rain storm!
  • I wonder if that old lady who called my number by mistake yesterday ever got a hold of her friend.
  • Why do I get so many wrong number calls? Oh, I hate that!
  • I was really dismissive of my friend when he suggested a time for a phone chat over the weekend. I hope I didn’t hurt his feelings. I guess I wasn’t mean, I just declined the invitation. So, whatever.
  • Actually, I have been pretty mean to him lately. He must be a masochist or he would have written me off by now.
  • He must know I don’t mean to be mean. But that’s still not fair. I just need to stop taking my frustration out on the innocent!
  • I really do have nice friends.
  • I’m actually pretty lucky to have made a couple of new friends this last year. I must stop referring to them as Paul’s friends one of these days because they’re my friends now, too.
  • Blogs are great! I’m enjoying getting to know one of my new friends by reading her blog. It makes me feel like I’ve known her my entire life. I wish I did. I bet life would have been a lot funner with a friend like her growing up.
  • Oh! Must email her sister about my holiday plans for this fall. It will be fun to meet her for the first time. If she’s anything like her little sis, it will be a blast.
  • I need to make sure I’ve blocked my work calendar. I suppose I’ll have to check my email a bit when I’m in Canada, but that’s OK.
  • Wow! It’s almost October. I need to formally RSVP to Lindsay about her wedding. I hope I can manage more than a long-weekend. A two nights’ stay in Scotland isn’t exactly what I’d call a holiday.
  • I wonder if I can wear the dress that I wore to last year’s Old Hacks’ dinner to her wedding. I mean, it’s a different set of people and I don’t think that any of Paul’s old university friends will be there… I really don’t want to have to go dress shopping…
  • I wonder if I can find someone to go to the wedding with me. I’m not looking forward to going to a wedding by myself right now. Especially one that Paul should be at. He was really looking forward to her wedding.
  • Ugg! Has it only been two miles?! I am so out of shape. This is hard. I wonder if I can just call it a day…
  • Yum. That banana bread I had this morning was really good. I should make more. No, I should make pumpkin bread. And I should really remember to tie my hair back because I found one of my hairs in the last loaf. Yuck. Oh well, at least it was my own hair…
  • I wonder what I’d be doing today if Paul hadn’t died?
  • I guess we’d have finalized the adoption by now, so we’d have gone to Sunday Mass with the kids.
  • Yum! Then we would have made a big Sunday roast. Paul really did make the best Yorkshire puddings. I wish I’d let him teach me how to make them. Now I’ll never know.
  • I wonder what the kids would have thought about having a ‘funny foreigner’ for a daddy. I wonder if we’d have been good parents…
  • I wonder if I’ll ever get to be a mom now…
  • Oh! I like this song, I’m going to turn it up.
  • Stop it! Don’t sing along!
  • Wow! I’ve almost gone four miles already. I feel great! Maybe I’ll run five miles instead…
  • No, maybe not Frances. Four and a quarter miles is a long enough run. Start your cool down before you drop!
  • Maybe I’ll start a new draft of my application letter this afternoon.
  • I have to email Anna to figure out when to meet. It’s going to be so nice to catch up with her. It’s going to be so nice to have her help with my letter!!
  • I wonder when I’ll hear if I’ve gotten accepted…
  • I wonder which school I’d rather go to…
  • Ah, who cares! You’ll go to whichever one accepts you and you’ll be grateful for it!
  • I wonder if… NO! Don’t start wondering about what will happen if you don’t get accepted. Be positive.
  • I am beat! Can I stop now?
  • Oh, go on! You’re only a quarter mile from five. Keep going…
  • Must remember to buy onions and goat cheese so that I can make that risotto recipe.
  • And cat food. Don’t forget the cat food!
  • Way-hey!! That’s five miles! My furthest distance in more than a year. Who cares if I walked that last three-quarter mile? I’m counting it!

Yeah. That’s the highlights. The conversation in my head continued into the locker room, through the grocery store, and on the 25-mile drive home. If only there was a way to harness the energy created by useless thoughts…